No worries. There’s always next year. But you can still have your pudding if you’ve got a well-stocked pantry, a quart of milk in the fridge, and a block of time this afternoon to mix it up and throw it in the oven. If it’s the first time you’re celebrating, better continue reading. Ye olde Indian pudding has deep connections to early America and our Thanksgiving traditions. This is Old, Old, Old Food cooking today.
Now, if you’re from the Northeast, the taste and tale of Indian pudding is probably old hat. You grew up with the stuff, and according to Kathleen Wall, culinary historian at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, even John Adams relished a warm bowl of it back in the day. She explained that the first settlers in New England couldn’t duplicate their hasty pudding from home because they had no grain. Cornmeal—or Indian meal–was available, so a new dessert was born with a title venerating its essential new ingredient.
Indian Pudding recipes have been passed down through the ages, and Wall told me that if you’re a a true New England foodie, you’ll serve apple, pumpkin, mince and cranberry pies plus an Indian Pudding on Thanksgiving day. I’ve always lived in Pennsylvania and never heard of Indian Pudding. Being a Thanksgiving traditionalist myself, I wanted to catch up. A few days ago I made a trial batch and loved it. Notice that crust on the pudding? It tastes just like a chewy molasses cookie. I used a deep-flavored molasses and next time (yes, there will be a next time) I’ll try a gentler version for a milder molasses kick.
The following recipe comes compliments of the Metropolitan Insurance Co. Cookbook, 1948. Despite its custard-y finish, this recipe has no eggs.
4 cups milk
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup molasses
2 tablespoons butter
Scald 3 cups of the milk in the top of a double boiler. Add cornmeal, sugar, spices, salt, molasses and butter. Cook over boiling water, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens or for about 20 minutes. Pour into a greased baking pan. Add the remaining cup of milk, without stirring. Bake in a slow oven (300 degrees) for about 2 1/2 hours. Serve warm with milk or cream or ice cream. Yield: 6-8 servings.