In my house growing up, it was a common trick amongst my parents, my grandparents, any adults really, to try to convince us kids that something undesirable was actually “the best part.” One of us would experience a natural aversion to something, to anything, and instead of being like, “yeah, sorry you found out the hard way, that sucks,” the answer was always, “What are you talking about? That’s the best part!”
Like chocolate pudding pie. My grandmother always made it. So did my mom. The graham cracker crust, the whipped cream on top. It was an almost perfect dessert. Almost. But I could never just dive right in. Because after the pie chilled in the fridge to solidify, to set, it would always develop this thick skin on top. Whereas the rest of the pudding was smooth and consistent in texture, this skin was hard, coagulated, nothing at all what you’d expect out of a pudding.
So after I’d be given my slice but before I could bury it under a pile twice its size of whipped cream, I’d get a butter knife from the kitchen drawer and start performing my carefully practiced chocolate pudding pie surgery, a skin-ectomy if you will. I’d have to be ever so careful, keeping my instrument precisely parallel to the table, to the crust, so as to extract the skin and only the skin, leaving as much delicious pudding as possible. Depending on how long the pie sat in the fridge, this task might range in difficulty from pretty easy to moderately challenging. Thick skin was easy to pull off. Any thinner and it might start breaking apart in clumps. Nothing was worse than thinking I had removed all of the skin but after a couple of bites coming across a crumb of that pasty, hardened goo top layer.
And every time I’d go through my routine, I’d have to sit there and be heckled by all of the adults. “What are you crazy? That skin is the best part!” I never understood this line of reasoning. Did they think that I was that stupid, that I’d fall for the most rudimentary reverse psychology? It’s like, well I don’t like it, but everybody else is claiming to like it, so I guess I might as well like it too. What, are they just teaching me to blindly conform to whatever anybody else is doing? How was this logic supposed to play out if I saw people smoking cigarettes? “You don’t like emphysema? That’s the best part!”
Besides, and this is how I know everybody was full of shit, if I were in their place, if I were the adult watching a little kid eat a piece of chocolate pudding pie, and if the skin really were the best piece, I’d gladly watch that little kid peel off that top layer. I’d wait for the successful skin extraction and then I’d take it for myself. “Oh you’re not going to eat that? Here, give it to me.”
Nobody ever ate my leftover skin. If it truly were the best part, somebody would have made a move for it. People should have been fighting for it, my extra skin, all of my discarded pizza crusts, those hard crunchy burnt parts from the corner of the lasagna tray, that pool of colored milk after I finished eating all of the cereal. But aside from my grandmother or grandfather occasionally finishing the scraps off of my plate – and I feel like that was more of a survival instinct left over from the Great Depression than it was an actual enjoying of food – all of that stuff went straight into the trash.
I’m an adult now and I pride myself on eating anything. And so now I eat the crust, I eat everything. I don’t want to be picky and I don’t want to miss out on anything because of some irrational likes and dislikes. Maybe my parents and my grandparents were trying to instill upon me a lesson, that it’s easier to go through life without being too selective, without trying to control all of the tiniest aspects of every single dish.
But I still won’t eat that pudding skin. I’ve come pretty far, but I’ll never be able to do it. I look at the pudding, the top layer, that’s what glue feels like, like other gross stuff. And I just hear everybody’s voice in my head, “That’s the best part!” It’s not the best part! It’s the worst part! Stop lying to me!