Friday, February 10, 2012

In Defense of Spotted Dick

     I'm deeply entrenched in preparing for our upcoming move in a couple of weeks. Spartacus and I are moving back to Atlanta, where we will live in the former library of an old elementary school which has been converted into lofts. As an aspiring writer, I can't think of better inspiration than that; it's all-around good karma. This afternoon, I finished packing up the rest of the ceramic and glassware in my dining room, all of it carefully bubble-wrapped and thoughtfully positioned within the burgeoning rank of corrugated moving boxes, stacked against the wall. One room down, eight more to go.
     Of all the spaces in our current loft, the kitchen will probably be the most challenging to pack. I have a feeling it isn't going to be pretty. After finishing up in the dining room, I went into the kitchen, poured a glass of merlot and perused our pantry, bracing myself for the awful truth I've been trying to deny. I'm a certified food-hoarder. The shelves are crowded with ordinary things, everyday staples like oatmeal, pasta sauce, tuna fish, almond butter, cartons of vegetable stock, and tubes of tomato paste. From a distance, it all looks pretty normal and organized. The problem quickly becomes evident when you see the can of spotted dick, seated underneath the chestnut puree, nearly obscured by the jars of piquillo peppers and lingonberries perched in front of it. This begs the question, "What is spotted dick?" Popular as a dessert in the UK, spotted dick is a suet-type pudding or sponge cake, similar in texture and composition to our pound cake, which is traditionally steamed and served in thick slices with custard sauce. The "spots" come from the raisins, currants, or other dried fruit, studded throughout the rum, lemon, or vanilla-scented pudding. No one really knows the origin of the term "dick" in this dessert. It is thought to be a corruption of either the last syllable in pud-ding or the word dough, or that it may actually be the German word dick, which means "thick."
     This can of spotted dick has already survived one move. In our old house, it quietly occupied a corner of the pantry for a little over a year, and it made me smile every time I saw it, remembering the day I bought it. It was Thanksgiving  of 2010. Spartacus and I had gone down to Fair Hope, Alabama, to spend the holiday weekend with his folks, Bob and Gwen. His brother, Greg, was also visiting, along with his wife, Becky, his son, Brendan, and his girlfriend, Heather. We had a full house, well stocked with good cheer and plenty of laughter, and Gwen, as usual, had prepared a marvelous feast. On Black Friday, Gwen, Becky, Heather, and I braved the crowds to do a little Christmas shopping. Gwen was about nine months out from her mitral valve repair, and had recently developed fatigue and shortness-of-breath, which was troubling because she was normally so active. None of us would have dreamed she'd be dead nine months later. We stopped at World Market, a shop which I love because it's always packed with hard to find, international food items, like Droste cocoa, good saffron, and interesting condiments. That's where I spotted the spotted dick. When we entered the store, we split up in order to explore the different sections on our own, and if we ran into each other, we'd stop and mutually examine the contents of our shopping carts before heading our separate ways again. I couldn't resist the spotted dick, and I plopped it into my cart. When Gwen saw it, sitting amidst the jars of olive tapenade and lemon curd, she broke into her signature Pee-Wee-Valley-Kentucky good old girl laugh, signalling her approval of my purchase. I was going to hide it somewhere, as a joke for Spartacus. That was my last shopping trip with Gwen, as she declined rapidly over the next few months into congestive heart failure. She died last August, and I miss her terribly.
     The spotted dick is coming with us to our new place, where it will probably sit, unopened for another couple of years. Although it's long expired, I'm sure it'll be just fine. Expiration dates on canned food are a recent invention, and it's probably still perfectly edible. It's strange to think that a can of spotted dick could possibly have a longer shelf than a human being, but I've seen reports of canned goods surviving intact for a hundred years, without any significant loss of nutritional value or bacterial contamination. I can't part with it because it reminds me of Gwen. Before we move, I'll try my best to use up the rest of the stuff in the pantry, the kamut spirals, the curry paste, the tins of duck fat, the blue-cheese stuffed olives, the tahini, the buckwheat groats, and even the organic millet flour. My only question is, what on earth am I going to do with this jar of black truffles?

A Simple Change of Heart, Part I (Gwen's Story)
A Simple Change of Heart, Part II
Can you spot the spotted dick?

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha! You know, I'd probably keep the can to, if not simply because it's a conversation piece. Good luck on your move. The loft sounds fabulous!