Today, January 11 …
David Livingstone, intrepid African explorer and missionary wrote in his journal in January 1854:
“On the 11th and 12th we were detained by incessant and violent rains. I had a little tapioca and a small quantity of Libonta meal, which I reserved for emergencies. The patience of my men under hunger was admirable. Present want is never so painful as the prospect of future starvation”
Tapioca is made from the tasteless starchy root of the cassava (or manioc) plant, after the poisonous prussic acid is removed by pounding and cooking. Cassava originated in South America and now thrives in Africa and elsewhere, although food historian Waverley Root has said “It is possible that it could be grown in Florida, but so far as I know, no-one has ever wanted to.”
In the form used most commonly in the West – pearl tapioca made into a glutinous milk pudding – many say that it is poisonous even without the prussic acid. Descriptions of the nursery and sick-room staple are replete with adjectives like “wholesome” and “nourishing”, with a noteable lack of words such as “delicious”, or even “pleasant”. Tapioca is, however, now trendy in the form of “bubble tea”, a drink popular in Asia consisting of sweet tea with or without other flavourings, and large “pearls” or “bubbles” which can be sucked up through the specially wide straw, thus providing both food and drink in a cup. Disgusting.
I give you the tapioca recipe which wins my disgusting prize, from an 1870s cookbook. Take note: the book warns you that tapioca “should be bought of a respectable dealer, as a spurious kind is sometimes offered for sale made of gum and potato flour”. Gum and potato flour being worse, presumably.
If you do happen to be a tapioca fan, you could follow this savoury dish with the milk pudding, accompany it with bubble tea for a complete tapioca meal, and follow it with psychiatric help.
Tapioca and Tomatoes.
Soak a tablespoonful of tapioca in water for a couple of hours, set it to boil, adding a little more water till quite done to the consistency of porridge. Add pepper, salt, and a little fresh butter. Cut two tomatoes in half, remove pips and watery substance, sprinkle with a little pepper and salt. Fill each half-tomato with with the tapioca, sprinkle the top with grated parmesan and baked bread crumbs, put them into the oven for twenty minutes, and serve.
Tomorrow: Food for perfect felicity.