pearl tapioca

Old-fashioned Large Pearl Tapioca Pudding

My Dad was not a simple man in many respects.  As a young boy, he quit school and went to work to help support his family which included his parents, three brothers, and a sister, Pop being the youngest child in the family. He did odd jobs, including working in the local butcher shop which not only earned him some money to take home, but some things, like offal, to help feed the family.

He enlisted in the Army in WWII, saw combat with Company B, 310th Medical Battalion attached to the 338th Infantry Regiment (“Custer”) on the Fifth Army front in Italy and was the recipient of the Bronze Star for heroic achievement in action. Upon return home, he did what many men in the Coal Region did — got married and went into the mines.

A near fatal injury from falling rock in a bootleg mine in the 50s ended his days underground, but coal and the Coal Region were in his blood; he bought a tractor-trailer and hauled coal from Schuylkill County breakers to Philadelphia and New York City five days a week. When road taxes and operating expenses became too much of a burden, he sold the truck to “get away from coal”. Just months later, he fund himself once again involved with it and mining, only this time it was above-ground, driving massive Euclid trucks (“Yukes”) for a local breaker.

Although he tried at times, he was never truly able to escape the grasp Anthracite had on him. It followed him to his grave in 1989, after years of him fighting for breath as Black Lung ravaged this strong, hard-working, intelligent, loving man I am so proud to have had as a father. I know this world would be so much better off if only there were more like him.

One of Dad’s favorite things was tapioca pudding, but he only liked the large pearl tapioca. Many times in restaurants in the Coal Region, this pudding would be on the dessert menu, but he always grilled the waitress as to whether it was the “real” (pearl) tapioca or “that other stuff” (instant or quick-cook variety).  I always remember Dad putting a splash of milk on top of this pudding along with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Mom often made it for him, and I remember helping her measure it out and put it in a bowl to soak. To this day, I never look at this recipe without seeing Pop, sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying a big bowl of this pudding.

Keep in mind

This simple homemade tapioca pudding, is creamy, rich, and filled with slightly chewy pearls of tapioca. Although simple to make, the pearl tapioca requires several hours soaking time, so plan accordingly. Don’t try to rush the soaking process or skimp on soaking time!

The tapioca pearl are cooked when they become translucent with a dot of cloudy center remaining. The pudding may seem runny immediately after cooking, it thickens upon cooling. 

The tapioca pearls add the starch to this pudding to help thicken it, so SLOWLY bring the milk and tapioca up to where it starts to bubble and time your simmer from there…it may take 20-plus minutes or so for this step, don’t rush it!  The starch that renders from the pearls is necessary to thicken the pudding properly.

Old-fashioned Large Pearl Tapioca Pudding

Recipe by A Coalcracker in the KitchenCourse: DessertsCuisine: Coal Region, Pa. DutchDifficulty: Easy

This pudding is delicious served slightly warm or chilled.


  • 1/2 cup large pearl tapioca (not instant or quick-cook varieties)

  • 4 cups whole milk

  • 1 1/2 cup sugar, divided

  • 3 eggs, beaten

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


  • Place tapioca pearls in a bowl and fill with water. Swish the pearls around, drain, refill the bowl with water and allow the pearls to sit 8 hours or overnight.
  • Drain the tapioca after the soak and set aside.
  • In a large saucepan mix milk, salt, and 3/4 cup sugar. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Add the drained tapioca when the milk starts to bubble around the edges of the pan.
  • Simmer 25 minutes or until tapioca pearls are mostly clear, stirring frequently to avoid sticking and scorching.
  • In a small bowl, beat eggs with remaining 3/4 cup sugar.
    Temper the eggs by slowly adding and stirring some (about half) of the hot mixture into them.
  • Add the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and stir well.
    Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir constantly for 2 minutes or until mixture is thick.
  • Remove from heat and add vanilla.
  • Transfer to a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap allowing it to rest directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a “skin” from forming on the top.


  • Do not use instant or quick-cook varieties of tapioca for this recipe.