If you’ve eaten dessert in D-hall anytime since the mid-’90s, you’ve probably had it. Before that first scoop, you might have wondered, “What on Earth is … Jersey Dirt?” But once you tried it, you knew.
That glorious mix of cheesecaky pudding and crushed Oreos could calm an overstressed brain or soothe a broken heart. The name didn’t really matter, except that the name is precisely why I think Jersey Dirt has become something of a cult favorite among students and alumni. It never really made sense, nor was it ever explained. And so Jersey Dirt became canon at Richmond, along with Triceragoose and Pier Dog.
In August, D-hall served the now-classic dessert, and we posted a photo to the University of Richmond Facebook page. There was lots of love among the 552 likes, 31 shares, and 85 comments, but also one agnostic. Her identity surprised us all as she revealed the little-known origin of our now-famous dessert.
Back in 1993 or 1994, D-hall held a recipe contest. The theme: students’ favorite foods. Spider mom Tina Lesher got the letter at home in New Jersey, but she had a problem. Melissa Lesher, her self-conscious 20-year-old daughter and Richmond student, loved macaroni salad — not a winning recipe. And Tina wanted to win.
Although she wasn’t much of a cook, Tina collected recipes. She leafed through her books and found a winner: a creamy cookie pudding called Kansas Dirt. “I thought, I’ll send this to Richmond as Melissa’s favorite recipe. It would be funny if I just changed the name to Jersey Dirt.”
The problem, of course, was that Melissa knew none of this. And one day, she walked into D-hall — “the center of the universe at UR,” she calls it — and saw a sign with her name and “favorite dessert.”
“I was confused,” Melissa said. “There’s my name next to a dessert I’d never heard of, and it’s called Jersey Dirt. I was mortified. I lost it. I turned the cards over so no one would see my name associated with it. I was livid.”
Tina remembers how upset Melissa got. “She had an absolute fit. She came home and was infuriated. I was laughing hysterically.”
Melissa graduated in 1994 and still considers “the Jersey Dirt incident” one of her most embarrassing moments. She’s still never even eaten it. But, “you have to love my mom for it,” she said. “She just wanted to win.”
Thanks to her, we all won.