Jell-o pudding this is not

I found this little beauty the other day at a bake shop in the Publick House Inn in Sturbridge, Mass.

indianpudding

Old Fashioned New England Indian Pudding. I don’t think you see this very much, really. I’m not sure I’d ever tasted it until one day I was out to dinner at this old school Italian restaurant. I ordered their prix fixe menu (it was more like “need fixe”) which came with a mandatory choice of three desserts, two of which were sort of sad-sounding items, like “cranberry cobbler” and “flan” (again, this was an Italian place, so it was probably not exactly flan, but, you get the idea). I was in the mood for neither, so I went for the last remaining option, the indian pudding.

I wasn’t expecting to like it. Doesn’t it sound like something they served in the Catskills in the 1960s? I just figured, hey, stuff tasted good in the ’60s too. It was described to me by our salty waitress as a thick, sweet, molassesy concoction, which sounded pleasant enough. It was tasty. I filed it away for future knowledge, and I pulled it right out of my head when I saw this can sitting in the Publick House bake shop.

It turns out they did serve Indian pudding in the ’60s – the 1660s! And even before that. According to whatscookingamerica.net, documented recipes for an English version of the dessert (referred to in those days as “hasty pudding”) date to 1599, and it was soon to be brought here by the first colonial settlers. Back then, it was a more rudimentary cornmeal and molasses mush, but it was later refined to include sugar and spices.

The following recipe was posted on the aforementioned website, though it is just one variation.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Preheat oven to 275. Lightly grease a 6- or 8-cup soufflé or baking dish with butter (you can use margarine, but DON’T use non-stick sprays).

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat, scald the milk. While the milk is heating, pour the cream into a medium to large bowl, add the cornmeal, sugar, molasses, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Add this cream/corn meal/spice mixture to the scalded milk. Cook, whisking constantly, over medium-low heat until the pudding has thickened to the consistency of syrup (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat.

In a bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Temper the eggs by adding 1/2 cup of the hot cornmeal mixture to the eggs while whisking rapidly. Vigorously whisk the egg mixture into the remaining cornmeal mixture. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring until melted.

Pour mixture into the prepared soufflé dish, and place dish on a shallow baking pan on the center oven rack.  Pour enough HOT water into the shallow baking dish to come 2/3 of the way up the outsides of the soufflé or baking dish. Bake until pudding is set, a tester inserted close to (but not in) the center comes out clean, usually about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and remove from the water bath and let cool slightly.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream or heavy cream.

Here’s what it ideally will look like when done. If apple pie is the quintessential American dessert, this runs a close second. This recipe is a bit ambitious, but try to lay your hands on some this winter.

indianpudding1

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