Festivals and rice pudding

Rice pudding is eaten all over the world, but there is no corner of Portugal where this dessert is not made so typical yet so different depending on who prepares it.

Since the sixth century BC that there are records of rice boiled in milk with sugar. The arrival of cane sugar from India to the Middle East where they had already cultivated rice marks the origin of this speciality that has endured until today.

It's possible to imagine that long ago these foods coexisted in India and that generally in Asia milk from animals was substituted with coconut milk; this dessert has been relished since ancient times.

Subsequently, the fame of arroz doce (rice pudding) spread rapidly throughout Europe and the golden colour that molasses gave it changed to the characteristic white in the thirteenth century when refined sugar began to be used. The eighteenth century marks this dessert's inaugural moment when it revealed all of its charm in every European cookbook.

During the last twenty-six centuries rice boiled in milk with sugar has kept practically untouched its original essence.

The dessert of arroz doce (rice pudding) in Portugal reflects this desire to keep alive the ancestral tradition of desserts. Serving it at the end of Sunday lunch or at any event worthy of celebration signifies revering an ancient custom and honouring festival days.

Numerous references reveal this association of rice pudding with specific dates in the calendar.

Christmas serves as an example which, in the villages and cities of Portugal, is much cherished in its traditions making food the central theme around which the celebration turns. For this reason, and before going to the popular Missa do Galo (Midnight Mass), there is always the dish of rice pudding and convent cakes and sweets are often served after a spectacular bacalhau cozido (baked cod).

Another time rice pudding appears is at many Portuguese wedding receptions. It is not only the main dessert of the occasion as it's typical for the groom's family to offer it to their guests a few days before the ceremony. Nowadays the myth endures that the amount of rice pudding that the guests receive is proportional to the closeness of kinship.

From the aroma offered by cinnamon through to the subtle touch that lemon peel gives and ending with the sponginess that the egg bestows Portuguese rice pudding grants, in its preparation, small variations that allow it to be personalised and made it unique for each table.