A Tasty Indian Pudding
I had every intention of making an effort on the Historical Food Fortnightly, but reality happens. This semester is the the semester when I am writing the big research paper that the department requires of first-year students in my program, so my time has been consumed by that. That research is what brought me here today though. I have been deeply immersed in Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery in the last few months as part of my research, and by now I can probably recite the book front to back, and back to front. All the textual analysis is exhausting, and I often find myself sidetracked, wondering what particular dishes taste like, especially the ones to which I am assigning the most importance for my research. Fast-forward to today, when I was actively procrastinating, and I decided I would make the recipe Simmons named “A Tasty Indian Pudding No. 1.”
“3 pints scalded milk, 7 spoons fine Indian meal, stir well together while hot, let stand till cooled; add 4 eggs, half pound raisins, 4 ounces butter, spice and sugar, bake 4 hours.”
All things considered, this is a pretty straight-forward recipe. It has its challenges, of course; how much is 7 spoons today? Not 7 tablespoons, I can guarantee it. How hot does the oven need to be? Does it really need to bake for 4 hours? Not in modern ovens, no. But truthfully, none of that is really all that essential, and need not be science-lab precise.
I figured the recipe would make quite a bit of pudding and I really did not need that much, so I halved it. Aside from that, I maintained the proportions as best I could. I used an eating spoon, the larger ones, to measure the cornmeal, and then measured that amount with a proper tablespoon measuring spoon for the sake of modern convention. The consistency of the mixture was very thin, not much thicker than milk, and I do admit that I was skeptical. But I aim to stay as close to the original recipes as possible, so I did not tinker with it and decided that I would follow through come what may.
A Tasty Indian Pudding No. 1
3 3/4 cups (30 oz) whole milk
5 tbsp stone-ground cornmeal (not too coarse)
2 large eggs, well beaten
1/4 pound raisins
2 oz (4 tbsp/ 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground mace
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/3 packed cup light muscovado sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 ºF
Heat the milk in a medium pot over medium heat until just before boiling. Remove from the heat. Add the cornmeal to the milk, whisking well to avoid clumping. Allow the mixture to rest until it is cool enough that it will not cook the eggs. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well.
Pour the mixture into a baking dish, and bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until the center does not jiggle when you move the baking dish. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
As always, Simmons did not let me down. The pudding set beautifully, and the taste was great, it was very similar in flavor to bread pudding. Even half of the originally recipe yielded enough to feed 4 or 6 people, depending on how generous or gluttonous you feel. I had never had Indian Pudding before, but I hear that New Englanders eat it warm with ice cream.
It is true that making this recipe was an act of productive procrastination, and although I cannot cite my anecdotal experiences in my work, making historical recipes, tasting them, and generally being immersed in the process does help me relate to my historical actors. I cannot visit Simmons’ home, or even town, as no one knows who she was, but I can see why she chose to include this recipe in American Cookery, and why her contemporaries liked it. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.
PS. To see how I arrived at the milk amount, read my explanation of 18th century vs modern measurements here.
Are there different versions/editions of Simmons’ book? I have the facsimile and it’s called “A Nice Indian Pudding” – No. 1 is the same as yours except it lists 7 eggs and a cook time of “one and half hour”. Any idea why they’re so different?
Hi. Good question! The first edition and the second are a bit different. It’s possible your facsimile is of the first. If it ways it was published in Hartford, then it’s the first. The second edition was published in Albany. Both were published in 1796.
Interesting! I didn’t realize that. I tried making it this weekend (I’m a huge Indian pudding fan – grew up eating it). I made it at 300 degrees and I think the oven was still probably too hot – it shouldn’t have split with the egg layer on top and the pudding layer at the bottom. I waited for it to cool instead of tempering the eggs – maybe that was an issue as well (not sure when folks started tempering eggs). It still tasted good – but the two layers didn’t seem right – it should have been a cohesive pudding…