Food goes hand in hand, or hand to mouth, with the holidays. In our family, we generally choose the traditional holiday fare, coming together for Thanksgiving at my Uncle Bob’s and Aunt Jerilyn’s house to eat turkey, her inimitable cornbread dressing, and real giblet gravy. The rest of us bring all the other traditional meal components – a baked ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, broccoli/rice casserole, fruit salad, green salad, etc.
For Christmas, we’ve occasionally gone “alternative,” but invariably, we return to the traditional fare (a repeat of Thanksgiving) for the next Christmas. It’s our comfort food, I believe, because Christmas can get so complicated, it’s a relief not to have to think much about at least one element of the holiday.
Also, it’s comforting how the traditional fare, with its tastes and smells of holidays past, summon the memory and spirit of the women cooks in our clan, long deceased, who used to cook these same dishes. My grandmother, Madeline, in particular, is the one who taught my aunt to cook, and they both taught me (with minimal input from my mother who hated to cook). My aunt has been my main resource for the last 20 years or so on culinary issues, as she owns a prodigious number of cook books and seems to have a personal relationship with Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray.
And now she is passing her expertise on to an even younger generation. This Christmas was significant because my nieces took over preparation of the turkey and dressing with my aunt’s supervision. In years to come, whenever they prepare these for us and/or their own families, they will no doubt think solely of her, having never met Grandmother, of course.
But they need to thank my grandmother (their great-grandmother) for my own year-end, year-out contribution to the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners: one of her desserts, which she called “Angel Delight.” She didn’t start making it until after she relocated to Round Rock from Dallas after retirement. When I asked her for the recipe, she wrote it out on a piece of paper, leading me to believe that she might have invented it. After she died, I found it on page 185 of the 1978 edition of The Round Rock Official Good Eat’n and General Gourmet Cookbook, which was among her books. Called “Four Layer Delight” in that book, the recipe calls for ½ cup more of flour than Grandmother called for in hers. I assume she thought it was better with less. She also tweaked the pudding layer. Instead of 1 large package of chocolate pudding mix, she called for two small packages, one chocolate and the other vanilla, mixed together.
In the many years since her death, I took over the production of what many in the older generation informally call “Grandmother’s pudding dessert,” partly because it was so popular and partly to keep Grandmother with us during the festivities. Its popularity has only grown among family newcomers and the kids that have grown up and passed on the pudding dessert craving in their DNA. As the years go by, there’s little doubt that the dessert will be linked to me and referred to as (cousin, aunt) “Jeffee’s pudding dessert.”
Strangely enough, a few years ago, a colleague at the Attorney General’s office was raving about a dessert that was made for office parties by one of his division’s secretaries. His description sounded eerily familiar, so I asked if he would ask her for the recipe. He did and, sure enough, it was the Angel Delight, although she calls it “Chocolate Supreme Dessert.” She makes it with the same amount of flour as my grandmother, but has innovated a bit by mixing some of the pudding from the pudding layer with the cool whip used for the top layer. While Grandmother’s top layer was always white (hence, the angel name), her top is a muddy chocolate color.
So, after such ado about this pudding dessert, you will be glad to read that I’m providing it here for you, dear readers and family members. I am calling it “Madeline’s Angel Delight,” but if you dare to make it and serve it at your own gathering, you are obviously free to call it by any of its other names or make up your own. I say “dare” because you may be unwittingly starting a tradition and making the dessert for the rest of your cooking life. You think I exaggerate, but I’ve often thought of the disappointed faces (or lynch mob) I’d face if I dared to make something different. On the other hand, it’s nice to be appreciated. So, without further ado:
Madeline’s Angel Delight
1 cup flour
1 stick margarine, softened
1 cup chopped pecans
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 8 oz carton cool whip
2 small pkgs of instant pudding (1 chocolate, 1 vanilla)
3 cups milk
Mix together first 3 ingredients and press into bottom of 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes til lightly brown around edges. Cool before spreading next layer.
Mix cream cheese and sugar; fold in 1 cup of the cool whip. Spread carefully over crust (which will pull up if you over-manipulate it as you spread).
Mix the vanilla and chocolate pudding mixes with 3 cups milk (instead of the 4 cups on box instructions). Spread pudding over cream cheese layer.
Spread remaining cool whip over pudding layer. Refrigerate well.
I will note for those of you who are not wed to a family chocolate tradition, that butterscotch, lemon, or vanilla pudding can be substituted for the chocolate, according to the office secretary. She has also been known to sprinkle the top layer with chopped pecans or crushed peppermint, and recommends freezing the dessert overnight and removing it to the refrigerator several hours before serving.
Just remember, you have been forewarned. Here’s wishing you a bon appetit and a happy and healthy 2012!