“It Takes A Village” Meyer Lemon-Scented Rice Pudding

January 12, 2012
2 Ratings
  • Serves 12
Author Notes

Who says people don’t know their neighbors anymore? Most people think that city dwellers, in particular, simply coexist in parallel and faceless existences. But we've got some great neighbors, the kind who'll even share secret recipes.

My husband and I moved to our unfashionable “inner city” San Francisco neighborhood 14 years ago, primarily because it is firmly outside of the city’s fog belt. We also fell in love at first sight with the house, which we first rented from the owner. She had painted it in outrageously vivid colors after a lovestruck trip to Mexico, and it radiated warmth.

Unlike our friends in tonier neighborhoods, we know almost all of our entire block of neighbors by name, and exchange greetings, holiday cards, and neighborhood gossip.
The neighbors on one side of our house are pretty much family now. They’re an elderly couple who basically function as our kids’ third set of grandparents. They took care of them as babies, and are our emergency contacts if one of them needs to be picked up early from school. They share their wisdom and dole out advice. I have called over many times to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar that I overlooked and needed in a hurry to finish what I was baking.

This brings me to the pudding. Teresa, the honorary grandma, makes a fabulous and decadently rich rice pudding. The pudding shows its Mexican origins in its use of tres leches (three different kinds of milk, as in the cake). She usually tops it with lots of bittersweet cocoa powder, but a more recent variation uses the zest of Meyer lemons. This is the best rice pudding there is. Its custardy richness is cut just enough by the fragrant scent of the Meyer lemons, which come from the tree of another neighbor, Jack. When Teresa started her family here 50 years ago, her best pal and next-door neighbor was Jack’s mother, who passed away long ago. Jack is way beyond needing a neighbor to care for anything but his mother’s garden, and so Teresa, with her green thumb, tends it. Before we got to know our neighbors, my husband used to risk falling over the fence and breaking his bones to forage for the forbidden fruit. Now that we know our neighbors, we acquire our Meyer lemons more honestly, simply by asking.

We are so lucky to be living in this urban village, where we know our neighbors, advice and recipes are dispensed freely, Meyer lemons scent the air, and the rice pudding is rich and creamy. Try this pudding for a taste of this goodness. —Beautiful, Memorable Food

Test Kitchen Notes

Here's what I really like about this rice pudding. The only sweetener comes from the sweetened condensed milk, so you can actually taste the cream and the rice. Folks, comfort food just doesn't get any better than this. And I love that the lemon zest, with its beautiful brightness, sits on top, so you can see and smell it, as well as taste it. I halved the amounts (which worked beautifully). I'm looking forward to playing with this, substituting orange zest and adding nutmeg or cardamom, or perhaps both. —AntoniaJames

What You'll Need
  • 6 cups cooked and cooled long-grain rice
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 2 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • zest of 2-3 Meyer lemons, preferably locally foraged
  • 1 splash or 2 of vanilla extract
  1. Combine milks and beaten eggs, then slowly warm together over a low flame.
  2. Add in cooked rice and stir, but not too much, at barely a gentle simmer. Add vanilla to taste. When thick “enough” (still saucy), take off heat.
  3. May be served warm or cold. If it gets too thick when set, stir in additional cold milk to desired consistency. Sprinkle lemon zest just prior to serving. Share with your neighbors.
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  • Beautiful, Memorable Food
    Beautiful, Memorable Food
  • creamtea
  • Waverly
  • Lucy Mercer
    Lucy Mercer
  • Lizthechef
I'm the author Spicebox Kitchen and a physician and chef who teaches healthy cooking classes in San Francisco at the Thrive Kitchen. Come cook with me! More information on Facebook at TheDoctorsSpicebox. To your health!

6 Reviews

Beautiful, M. February 2, 2012
Thanks so much for your lovely review, AntoniaJames. I am so glad you loved this as much as I do. Teresa will be blushing with pride when I tell her that her rice pudding has made it big!
creamtea February 2, 2012
Lovely! Congrats on the CP! Love rice pudding, and this sounds like a wonderful variation.
Waverly January 25, 2012
What a wonderful history this recipe has. I brought home some meyer lemons and am searching for a sweet way to use them. Thank you and your neighbor, Teresa for the recipe!
Lucy M. January 14, 2012
Linda, now that I have a drawer full of Meyer lemons, I'm going to try this recipe. Any excuse for rice pudding. Love this story & recipe!
Beautiful, M. January 13, 2012
I think that's just the resolution on the computer (pixels). These are classic Meyers from an old tree- the skin is kind of thicker than usual but still smooth and the sweet flesh is the same.
Lizthechef January 12, 2012
I have never seen a Meyer lemon with a puckered, thick skin - educate me? The thin, shiny outside of a classic Meyer gives it away. I'm so interested in yours.