Today the Lovely Mona shares her award-winning version of the Tale of the Flaming Pudding Toss
Every Christmas, my mother-in-law Connie makes a killer rum pudding-cake. This has been a long tradition before I came into the family. The sweetness mixed with the rum is a taste to die for. It's so moist it almost melts in one's mouth while the taste buds become elated by the fabulous flavor. I have to admit, Connie knows what she's doing when it comes to cooking desserts.
Connie is short, has dark almost black hair, and is always immaculate and proper. She was a beauty in her youth and has become a handsome woman. She knows what's right and wrong and will say exactly what is on her mind. She also does everything the right way. She even had her children in the proper order; boy, girl, boy, girl. I had two girls with no intention of trying for a boy. I heard about that for several years until she finally decided I was serious about not getting pregnant again. She keeps her house so clean one can truly eat off the floor. As stern as she may sound, she has a great sense of humor and is fun to be with.
One year, we were gathered at Connie's sister's house in Santa Cruz, California for the big family Christmas bash. Aunt Sally had a lovely home in an upper middle-class neighborhood. The living room was lush with Christmas decorations. One end led to the well-kept backyard through a sliding glass door. Another door lead into the large blue and yellow kitchen that paralleled the living room.
My two daughters, Tara and Anne, were young--ages four and two, respectively. There were other young cousins for them to play with as well as lots of aunts and uncles. Everyone was dressed in their nicest festival outfits except for Sally's young adult sons. They typified the surfers one sees on television; tan, sun-bleached hair, muscular bodies, and good looking. Everyone is good looking in my husband's family. It's a requirement, per my mother-in-law. I was told when I was pregnant that my children had to be beautiful because anything less would be unacceptable. I'm sure she was half joking.
"Is there anything I can help you with?" I asked Connie and Sally as we were in the kitchen after we feasted on a delicious late afternoon lunch. They were finishing up cleaning the skink and drain board.
"Here," Connie said as she gave me the bottle of rum. "Open this, Mony dear. We're getting ready to serve the rum cake." Connie gave nicknames to everyone in the family.
I looked at the bottle. Eighty-proof alcohol seemed hight to me, but I know little about rum. "It's open," I informed her as I placed the bottle back on the round table next to the excellent looking rum cake. I couldn't wait to have some and had saved room for it.
"We want to make sure we have a nice flame this time," Connie explained to me pleasantly. I'm sure you remember how it fizzled out last year. We don't want that to happen again." I remembered how disappointed she was the year before when the flame kept going out.
I watched her pour the clear rum on the cake, drenching every pore. There was even some rum on the plate like a little moat surrounding a castle.
"That's not too much?" I asked.
"No, dear. It'll be fine." She was so knowledgeable and always knew what she was doing. I let it go as my attention turned toward Sally.
"Are we ready?" Sally inquired as she was just finishing cleaning the sink after putting the dirty dishes into the dishwasher. Like her older sister, everything was immaculate at all times, even at parties. "I can carry it in, Connie. Mona, go tell everyone the cake's coming."
Obediently, I walked through the kitchen door into the living room. "The rum cake is coming. Be ready!" I tried hard to make my small voice heard over the loud rumble of chatter. This family loves to talk whenever they get together. They are a high energy, loud, enjoyable people. They love to laugh, argue, and tease each other.
As we waited with anticipation for the delicious cake, Anne cuddled into my arms. We were all talking at once to each other when Connie announced in a lovely alto singsong, "Here comes the flaming pudding."
We happily faced the kitchen door as Sally carefully walked in with the famous flaming pudding-cake, parading through the living room toward the antique coffee table in front of the couch. Our faced changed from joy into horror when we saw the blue flames dancing not only above the whole cake, but also on the plate which Sally was trying to carry.
"Sally, be careful," someone said with a lot of concern in her voice.
"Put it dow, quickly on the table," someone else suggested urgently.
"It's going to burn your fingers, Sally, put it down!" exclaimed another.
We could see that her fingers were getting burned as the cascade of blue flame started falling from the plate, when she suddenly let go. The pudding fell to the floor, rolling a little, catching the carpet on fire where it landed. The extra rum spilled everywhere and flames were scattered about the floor. We all jumped up to stomp out the flames on the carpet as they began to spread. Sally's husband kicked the cake like he would a soccer ball into the kitchen, scorching the pale yellow linoleum as it rolled across the floor. Connie rushed into the kitchen, picked up the flaming pudding and dropped it into the freshly cleaned sink. She was like Wonder Woman in action.
Meanwhile, in the living room, Anne was screeching in my arms as I was trying to stomp out the flames closest to me. I suddenly thought of Tara and searched the room for her while stomping out fire. She was outside standing in the middle of the lawn, peering through the opened sliding glass doors. Her fingers were at her mouth and I could tell she was afraid. Right then, as I quickly glanced around the room, I decided to let the rest of the family take care of the fire and I would protect my children.
I ran outside to calm Anne and Tara while telling them that everything was going to be all right. It occurred to me that the fire could have an emotional impact on them, especially Anne since the flames were under my feet as she was in my arms. I knelt next to the girls and talked to them soothingly as we watched the chaos inside.
Everyone was stomping on the fire trying to keep it from spreading. It was total mayhem as they were trying to save the house. They were all stomping as if their lives depended on it. Sally's husband finally brought out the fire extinguisher and sprayed the foam on the flames, putting most of them out. I watched my husband Michael stomping out the last of the flames and it was safe to enter the house again.
We were abuzz with what happened. As we recovered from the shock of nearly losing the house, we viewed the damage. There was now a large burned section on the once beautiful sea-green carpet. The yellow kitchen floor had a long straight, black dotted uneven line where the pudding had rolled. The smell of the burned carpet lingered in the air. No furniture was damaged.
I went into the kitchen to look at the cake in the sink. It wasn't burned at all from the fire. Anne, still with fear on her sweet face, was still holding me tightly around the neck.
"We were all looking forward to eating that. At least there're other deserts," I commented to Connie.
"I'm serving it anyway. Hand me that knife over there on the counter," she declared with a grin and a spark of laughter in her voice.
I gave her the knife and with one hand brought her the dessert plates. I put Anne back on the floor assuring her that she was all right and she could go see her daddy. She wobbled into the living room where the rest of the family was gathered.
"Rum cake, anyone?" I asked smiling as if nothing happened to it while I handed out plates of the pudding with a fork. I had some takers, but not everyone.
"You must be joking. I'm not touching that," Michael told me, "especially not after it's been kicked across the floor."
"Your mother cleaned it off in the sink. It's fine. Besides, there's enough rum and sugar in it to kill any germs," I retorted as I ate my piece. It was delicious. All that extra rum in it made it the best i had ever eaten.
"We have insurance and I was planning to get a new carpet and redo the kitchen anyway. This is really quite lucky, Sally told us smiling. Her attitude amazed me.
The rest of the afternoon went on without any more problems. That party became legendary in our family as "The Flaming Pudding Toss Christmas Party."
Tomorrow: Tara Mobley, mother of the World's Most Beautiful Granchile™, relates the tale from the view of a child