Remember the story The Pearl? Now, I love Steinbeck, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only 6th grader to be scarred by that parable of the devastating consequences of sudden enrichment. Here, to undo some of that, an alternative telling.The Pearl: Take 2
The pearl diver rose out of the water, holding in his hands a gem of the ocean produced through years of faithful swilling by some ancient invertebrate at the bottom of the sea. Treading water in the minty shadows of the reef, he gazed at the baseball-sized globe in his hand. It was lacquered in shimmering gold and refracted the equatorial sun back in a panoply of rays. Further down the reef other divers glanced in his direction. They had felt the momentousness of his find as it rippled out towards them across the ocean surface, but were too far away to make out what he cupped in his palms.
The diver swam into shore, holding the pearl out in front of him like a buoy. When he reached the cove, he grabbed the nearest banana leaf and wrapped it in a neat bundle, hoping that no one had had seen it. You see, he’d also read Steinbeck’s novel back in middle school, and was afraid that such a large pearl would bring tragedy and destruction to him and his family.
He high-tailed it to a small fishing hut on a deserted patch of beach, where his wife was sitting behind a large bowl, pounding taro roots into a sticky paste. Little Majoro was strapped to her shoulder, sleeping peacefully, not bothered in the least by the repetitive pounding taking place a foot from his head.
“Uhura, look,” said Matoko. He quickly unwrapped the palm frond and rolled the gargantuan pearl out onto the straw mat on the floor of the hut.
“Oh!” exclaimed Uhura, letting out a frightened squeal. “This cannot be. We will end up like the family in The Pearl.” She covered Majoro’s head with a banana leaf, as if to protect him from any such fate.
“What shall we do?” asked Matoko. “I cannot sell this at the market. It is too big.”
“I know,” said the voice of Krulea, Matoko’s mother-in-law. “Give me the pearl, I will make magic with it.” Matoko raised one eyebrow. Krulea had been acting very odd of late. Her favorite activity seemed to be chasing chickens around while wearing a tea cozy on her head. He wasn’t sure he trusted her with five cents, much less the biggest pearl in history. But she pursed her lips at him and crossed her wrinkled arms over her chest, so he gave in and handed her the jewel.
As Krulea disappeared into the outdoor kitchen behind the hut, a loud, insistent humming filled the air. It gradually crescendoed into a tonal buzzing, culminating in a large crack, then an explosive clattering, as if a million tiny pebbles had fallen onto the floor. Matoko and Uhura rushed into the other room. Krulea was standing behind a large mixing bowl, looking in satisfaction at a glistening pudding where a million tiny droplets lay ensconced in thick coconut cream, topped with fruit.
“What is that?” asked Matoko.
“Stupid boy,” said Krulea. “It’s pudding.”
“Where’s the pearl?”
Krulea rolled her eyes and pointed at the pudding. “I turned it into food.”
Matoko’s neck veins bulged. Krulea held up a hand. “Know this – this pudding will never run out. That pearl was magic – it has become an inexhaustible food source. No matter how much you eat, the pudding will regenerate. You and your family will never go hungry.”
Openmouthed, Matoko and Uhura watched Krulea wander down the dusty dirt road and walk straight into a chicken. They looked at each other, shrugged, and began dishing out the pudding. Krulea was right, no matter how much they ate, the level of the pudding never went down. It was indeed a happier ending than The Pearl.
- ½ c tapioca pearls (otherwise known as sabudana, available from Asian/Indian groceries)
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 cups water (if you want it creamier can sub another can of coconut milk here)
- 3-4 tb honey or maple syrup
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tb vanilla (optional) or 1 tsp fresh vanilla bean
- fresh starfruit
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the pearls, coconut milk, and water (can soak pearls in liquid in advance to shorten cooking time).
- Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and cook, whisking occasionally, until tapioca is translucent and tender.
- Add vanilla, honey, and salt. Serve warm with fruit and mint, or chill (will thicken in the fridge) for later.
- Eat as a source of comfort while reading the actual Pearl.