Opening the recipe book, the spattered card falls from the pages as if it already knows what we’re up to. Chocolate pudding covers much of the recipe, one jotted down quickly in my mother’s slanting cursive during a family reunion one hot summer day. I never knew why we called it Baskin Robbins; I have met other people who called this same recipe by another name. I still call it by the name we gave it because it’s ours.
I begin with the crust:
1 cup of flour
2/3 cup butter
3/4 cup chopped pecans
I mix slowly, thinking back to the many times my mother and I made this dessert together. It became a standard in our house, a go to recipe for all manner of pitch-ins, school functions and barbeques. Making the crust was my least favorite part as a kid. I wasn’t very good at pushing it out to fit all of the corners of the pan. I spread it out with a fork now, just as I did those many years ago, and pop it in the oven for 25 minutes at 350.
On to best part. The cream cheese layer:
1 cup Cool Whip
1 package of softened cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
I blend this layer together with the mixer until it is creamy and smooth. It’s hard to imagine how much of just this one part I have eaten over the course of years. Once the crust was cooled, I was allowed to spread this layer on. I spread one spoonful and eat another successively until my bowl is empty. It still makes me feel half warm and cozy and half nauseous to think of it.
Next, mixing the pudding:
2 packages instant chocolate pudding
2 cups cold milk
This part is always a challenge. As a child, the way the powdered pudding floated in the milk always perplexed me. I was always anxious to use the electric mixer and had a hard time judging the speed for such a thin concoction. It went something like this: REV! SPLAT! REV! SPLAT! . I still giggle thinking about this repeated experience; mom trusted me to learn from my mistakes and I eventually did. I now find a whisk to be a much more practical tool for this step. Once the mixture came together, we spread it over the cream cheese layer
The finishing touches were my shining moment:
The rest of the cool whip from a regular container
A sprinkle of nuts
I would spend long minutes deciding the “design” of my cool whip. Should I touch several spots with the spoon and make peaks? Should I make even swirls in the cool whip? Where, exactly, would I place the pecans? At that time, the possibilities seemed endless. Now, I just smooth it over the top and sprinkle the nuts where they fall.
And there you have it: one of the happy memories from my childhood wrapped neatly in a 9 x 9 baking dish. I am grateful to have this card written in her hand, to have many recipes written in her hand. She died when I was only 19, and these recipes remain one of the most valuable things I inherited - my link to her through pages and cards touched over and over by her hands. More than a recipe, it remains a tangible reminder that we had happy times together, she and I. It is a tradition, albeit a simple one, that spans the course of time and grabs my hand and brings me right back to those moments as a pudding covered girl, laughing in the kitchen with my mother.