Indian pudding is another American favorite descended from medieval British staple food. Hasty pudding, a dish dating back to at least the 16th century, is essentially wheat flour in boiling milk, similar to what we know as cream of wheat. It is cooked at a low heat till it reaches a thicker consistency, rather like oatmeal. As with a number of traditional British foods that made the long trip across the Atlantic, once it arrived on our shores, cooks adopted the local available ingredients and it became something quintessentially New England, the Indian pudding.
Cooks made the swap from wheat flour to cornmeal, utilising a new, widely available grain, and sweetened the dish with molasses (made available through the Triangle Trade) or maple syrup. The typical spice profile found in a number of New England desserts- cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and mace- were added to the pudding. The dish continued to evolve and began appearing in American cookbooks in the late 18th century. The recipe below, which I have redacted and used, is from an 1840 cookbook. “The Practical Farmer, Gardener and Housewife,” written by Edward James Hooper. In addition to the baked pudding recipe I have chosen to use, Hooper also offers a boiled variety, hearkening back to the British affinity for boiled puds.
Now wholly associated with New England autumn and Thanksgiving, there was a time in the 1700’s, at the height of the Triangle Trade, when there was an Indian pudding recipe in every American cookbook. As tastes, trade routes, and fashions changed, the dish was embraced by New England and forgotten by most. Perfect for the early days of autumn, when the weather starts to cool and the leaves begin to turn. Best served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a snifter of brandy. Many thanks to Trevor for his indispensable knowledge on the subject of molasses volume.
- 3 ½ cups milk
- ½ cup finely ground cornmeal
- ¼ cup molasses
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup granulated sugar (optional)
- pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 300 F. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, scald the milk, but do not boil. Whisk in cornmeal and stir till the milk is absorbed. Stir in molasses, sugar, salt, and spices. Butter a baking dish and pour the cornmeal mixture in. Bake for about 2 ½ hours, or until set. Allow to cool slightly, then serve with ice cream.