Tapioca for Pudding.


A terrible song has been going through my head for the past few days. I have absolutely no idea how it got there. I have some theories, but nothing concrete. I’ve been humming it at work and singing it in the shower, but it won’t go away.

So I thought the best way to get rid of it would be to share it with everyone I know.

It’s called “The Tapioca,” from the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie, starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing.

Andrews plays a simple country girl from Montana, who seeks to live a thoroughly modern, Jazz Age life in the Big City and ultimately marry her boss. If you can swallow Miss Andrews as a Montana girl, you can swallow just about anything. Except possibly Carol Channing, who was unjustly beaten out of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Muzzy, the trombone playing, xylophone-dancing Jazz Baby Southampton matron, by Estelle Parsons who had a bit part in some little film called Bonnie and Clyde.

Robbed, I say. Just robbed.

When Millie first meets Jimmy, the fresh-as-paint (spoiler alert) man she will eventually marry, even though he is not her boss, he decides to liven things up at the “Friendship Dance” he has just crashed by creating a new dance step. For inspiration, he asks Millie what she has most recently consumed for dinner. Franks? Sauerkraut? No, and no. When she utters the distinctly American phrase, “I had tapioca for pudding,” he knows he has a hit on his hands.

Just watch and learn:

So  now you know. Just thank your lucky stars I have spared you any of Miss Channing’s numbers.

I will however, leave you with this, simply because it will help to explain why this film seems to upset so many of my friends:

I haven’t decided if making tapioca has helped to relieve my psyche of these scenes or permanently scarred it. I do, however, know that it is, as Miss Andrew’s says, “Dee-lish.”

And it is infinitely easier to swallow than anything in this film. Except, perhaps, Beatrice Lillie. She adds just the right dash of soy sauce to make it just-about-palatable. Watch the movie, if you dare, and you will understand.


Tapioca Pudding

Raspberries are entirely optional.

Serves 4 to 6

This is not my recipe. It is Heidi Swanson’s, from 101 cookbooks. I’ve made a lot of recipes from her website– every one a winner. They are simple-but-interesting, well-documented, and better photographed that most. And they have an earnestness about them, which this tapioca recipe exemplifies.

I had the idea of cooking all of her recipes within the span of one year and blogging about it, but that just seemed silly. Who would be stupid enough to do something like that?


• 3 cups organic milk, divided
• 1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
• 2 extra-large egg yolks, lightly beaten
• 1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 vanilla bean, split along the length (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)


1. Pour 3/4 cup of the milk into a medium-sized, thick-bottomed pot, like a dutch oven, or what have you. Add tapioca and soak for 60 minutes or up to over night.

2. Whisk in the egg yolks, salt, sugar, and the remaining milk. Scrape the vanilla bean along its length with a knife and add that bean “paste” along with the bean itself to the pot (if using vanilla extract instead, stir it in at the very end, when the pudding is completely cooked). I like to pin the bean to the bottom of a wooden spoon as I am stirring to extract as much of the flavor as possible.

3. Slowly bring the mixture just barely to a boil, stirring all along– this should take about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat and let the mixture fall to a simmer– you keep it here until the tapioca is fully cooked, another 20 minutes or so. At this point, however, it might be wise to heed Jimmy’s advice to not let the temperature drop too many degrees, or you’ll wind up with what is called the Frozen Tapioca Freeze. Doubtful, it’s true, but anything is possible when we suspend our disbelief long enough to believe anything that happens in a movie musical.

4. When the pudding is ready, the tapioca beads will swell up and become translucent and custard will thicken dramatically. Taste to adjust flavoring, adding salt or a little (more, if using) vanilla extract, if desired. Best when served fresh and still-warm, but you won’t find me complaining as I wander to the fridge at 1 am to load a cold spoonful or two into my mouth.

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Celebrities, Stage, Film, and Television, Sweets and the Like and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Tapioca for Pudding.

  1. Nicky D. says:

    I don’t think I care for the slightly sardonic tone you’re taking toward this film, or Carol Channing.

  2. Deb says:

    You are absolutely hilarious! Slap-i-oca! Now i want to eat it!

  3. michaelprocopio says:

    Nicky– I am often sardonic about the things I (secretly) love. It’s like middle school, when you throw spit wads at the person you really, really want to make out with. Not that I want to make out with Carol Channing, but you know what I mean.

    Deb– Bless you. And you should make some and try it. But make a larger batch than I did, because it was gone in about 15 minutes.

  4. Deborah says:

    Tap, tap, tap, tap….damn you Michael!

  5. michaelprocopio says:

    Glad I could help, Deb. Anything else I can do for you?

  6. roy says:

    this movie not only teaches us that Julie Andrews has breasts, but that operators have obviously never been in a Chinese Opium den.

    what more can one ask of a film?

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