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It’s an odd time for a Christmas rice pudding. We’ve just planted our garden and have already seen green emerge where the seeds were. It’s hot and then rainy in that Oregon spring way, the non-committal weather patterns of the year shedding its frost. We’re nowhere near Christmas—but I take one look at Risalamande, and I buy some rice.

I love it as much for its creamy richness as for its backstory, a Christmas tradition built on a good-natured prank: a single whole almond is mixed into the pudding and she who finds it wins a prize. She can hide the almond away, though, forcing the rest of the group to keep eating until it’s found. It’s an impish game, a tradition tempered by tang, the way the cherry sauce adds a necessary tartness to the pudding.

These are the traditions I like, the games and customs I don’t hear about as much. I think of my own growing up.  

At Christmas we’d make kolaches, tiny Croatian roll-up cookies as laborious to make as they are quick to eat, but worth the effort. My great grandma’s handwritten recipe was our guide, a secret spell hidden away until Christmastime. We’d use strawberry filling, raspberry, apricot. They were finished with a dusting of powdered sugar and stayed in a tin until they were gone, which was never too long. On Christmas Eve we’d each open a gift.

Once a year we’d get Birthday Cereal: any technicolor thing we’d been dreaming of, something plucked from commercials with animated animal mascots and prizes in the box. A far cry from our quiet life of Special K, Grape Nuts, unseasoned Cheerios. The best part of a birthday.

Valentine’s Day got the Easter treatment—a package of small gifts, candies, a card. Once a Hershey kiss the size of my head. It wasn’t until I compared notes later in life that I realized this isn’t how everyone does it; a lost celebration of the unromantic branch of love, the vital and everyday kind. I’ll do this for my kids, too.

We’d celebrate Ayyám-i-há, a Baha’i holiday lasting four days. Each year I’d get a new international doll from Unicef. My first was Maria from Mexico, in full skirt and long braids; later came Mia, Tia, Gia, and Kia, my friends of all colors in traditional dress, one in sneakers and a NEW YORK t-shirt.

I think of the traditions ahead this year: the pumpkin patch, Thanksgiving creamed peas, our first live Christmas tree together. I have a hunch that somewhere in there will be Risalamande, and many other somewheres, traditions we have yet to establish.

The following is the recipe I used, as found here.


500 mL milk
60 g porridge rice
50 g sugar (optional)
25g almonds
1 cup cream
1 vanilla bean


Add rice to a saucepan. Add milk and bring to a boil.

This step is optional. Many recipes don’t include sugar in the porridge, as the risalamande will already be sweet from the kirsebaersauce (cherry sauce).

Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the saucepan.

Simmer gently for 40 minutes, stirring regularly.

Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Fold into the saucepan mixture.

Add almond slivers plus a whole blanched almond. Almonds can be blanched by popping them in boiling water, then rinsing them in cold water; the temperature shift removes the skins.

Serve with kirsebaersauce (cherry sauce) and enjoy!