With Sartre and his halva addiction, Agatha Christie and her devotion to cream, and Wallace Stevens’ cookie obsession, writers seem to thrive on a sugar high. Halloween must be a very productive time of year, creatively speaking: too gloomy to go outdoors, and lots of candy at hand to fuel the creative spark. It makes you wonder how many Great American Novels could only have been written with a steady supply of cake, cookies, and caffeine.
But just as I was beginning to think that sweets were the secret to success, C.S. Lewis broke the mold. He is not only ambivalent toward candy – he actually refuses to eat it. To someone whose favorite part of Halloween is stocking up on half-price Reese’s the morning after (don’t judge), this is the most harrowing discovery of the season.
Lewis comes up with various excuses for avoiding sugary treats: “I’m getting terribly fat and have had to diet” or “I can’t afford to buy a new wardrobe every few months!” He once wrote to a friend, who apologized for sending him stationery rather than sweets, “I must confess that I eat notepaper and envelopes, so your very kind gift may be described as being that of the edible variety.” Which is all to say what Lewis would ultimately admit: “I have not a sweet tooth.”
But his distaste for the insubstantial went further than food. Lewis also disdained literature that went down a little too easily. He cautioned a friend against detective novels, saying, “A little sense of labour is necessary to all perfect pleasures I think: just as (to my palate at least) there is no really delicious taste without a touch of astringency … The apple must not be too sweet.” Who would have thought the immortal creator of Narnia could wind up being the trick-or-treater your mother would love: He’ll leave the M&Ms, and ask for a Granny Smith instead.
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Don’t get me wrong – fruit is great and all. But I don’t officially consider something a dessert unless it includes chocolate, or caramel in a pinch. Describing his ideal meal, Lewis wrote, ”no nonsense about soup and pudding, but a sole each, cutlets with green peas, a large portion of strawberries and cream.” Here, I feared we were doomed to disagree; I love that soup and pudding nonsense. But his emphasis on the large gave me a bit of hope. That’s how I like my desserts too.
Besides being out of season season, strawberries and cream isn’t food for the stormy weather we’re having on the East Coast this week. And here, at least, Lewis and I see eye to eye. Returning from a dinner party on a blustery night, he wrote of the dessert, “What a typically female choice for a snowy evening – fruit salad! It wd. be cruel to ask for splendour in a poor society, but why not an honest rice pudding?”
Okay, so it’s borderline misogynous, but reading that letter vindicated Lewis for me. Rice pudding is the ultimate comfort food, the perfect hurricane dessert. It’s warm, consoling, and you probably don’t need to run to the grocery for ingredients. Add some cinnamon and bourbon (his drink of choice), and you have fall in a bowl. It’s also good with some melted chocolate mixed in … I checked.
Cinnamon Bourbon Rice Pudding
6 cups whole milk, divided
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3/4 cup basmati rice
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon bourbon
1. In a large saucepan, heat 5 1/2 cups milk, the sugar, and salt over low heat until just warm and sugar is dissolved. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into milk, and add bean pod. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit 30 minutes.
2. Return saucepan to stove over medium-high heat. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until milk comes to a light boil, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture has thickened and rice is soft, about 35 minutes. Stir egg and remaining 1/2 cup milk into mixture. Cook an additional 3 minutes.
4. Off the heat, add cinnamon, nutmeg, and bourbon. Serve warm on a chilly October night.