Terry Martens believes that rice pudding is comfort food. It reminds her of her childhood when she would arrive home from school on winter afternoons to the smell of rice pudding cooking in the oven.
“We could barely wait for this delicious dessert to be ready so we could indulge,” she says.
Martens grew up in a small community in Nova Scotia but now lives in Saskatchewan and is a member of Hoffnungsfelder Mennonite Church. After retiring as a teacher, she looked for voluntary service opportunities and became involved as a cook for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). She believes that when volunteers work hard at cleaning up or rebuilding after a natural disaster, they need to be well fed. For the first supper with a new crew, she likes to provide rice pudding for dessert, using an old family recipe.
At a cooking assignment with MDS in California earlier this year, her first day was quite an experience, and she also needed comfort food at the end of it.
For the month of January, Martens organized meals for MDS crews rebuilding houses in Calaveras County, where wildfires destroyed many homes in September 2015. Cooking and lodging facilities were set up at Lodestar Camp, a fairly remote location normally used as a summer camp in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The cooking facilities were wonderful. Martens says it was a “Cadillac” kitchen—especially given the conditions MDS cooks sometimes work under.
The weekend she and other MDS staff arrived, there was a massive wind and rainstorm. The rain poured down and the wind brought down trees and power lines. Even the famous big sequoia “tunnel tree” came down in the storm.
When Martens and her assistants got to the camp kitchen early Monday morning, the power was still off. How were they going to feed 27 men for breakfast? Using their cell phones, they anxiously made their way inside and discovered the gas stove and water system didn’t require electricity. With no lights except for cell phones, they managed to put together a hot breakfast and pack the lunches for an astonished and grateful group of volunteers.
It was a challenging day, but the kitchen crew managed to get supper cooked, complete with rice pudding topped with caramel sauce. One man who came to pick up his dessert looked at the individual bowls of pudding and topping, and asked, “What’s this? More mashed potatoes and gravy?” Like the rest of the crew, after a taste he found it delicious and was ready for a second helping.
Martens had been feeling apprehensive because the previous evening one of the men enthusiastically announced he was a rice pudding specialist. But after that first supper, he asked to see the recipe, which restored her confidence in her mother’s recipe.
During Martens’ time in California, some of the building crews worked in miserable rainy conditions, but MDS made good progress on five houses. And rice pudding will now evoke the memory of a California storm.
For the recipe, see here.