I was rearranging my cookbooks recently and as usual, got sidetracked. It is always my collection of old pamphlets and antique cookery books that draws me in the most. Inside one I found some notes I had taken at the Brown University archives in Providence a few years ago. I was supposed to be working on something else at the time, but of course I got sidetracked again—to their own collection of old cookbooks. That’s one of the lovely problems with libraries.
The notes I found were all on various recipes using corn and Indian meal, which is the old term for stoneground white-cap flint cornmeal, or jonnycake meal, discussed in this blog in the context of Portuguese bread and thick and thin jonnycakes. The recipes came from books with titles like The Indian Meal Book: Comprising the Best Receipts for the Preparation of That Article (1847). I’ve yet to try many of them, but looking them over reminded me of how long it had been since I’d made Indian Pudding.
Indian pudding, like jonnycakes, is a bit of an acquired taste. It’s old-fashioned enough that it has disappeared from the majority of restaurant menus, but, for the same reason, remains firmly on the menu of many a Rhode Island and Massachusetts country or traditional restaurant. It is made with cornmeal, so has an unusual, slightly grainy texture. Some versions are strongly flavored with molasses, to which some people are partial, some are not; and some are very (I think overly) sweet. All versions qualify as nursery food—soft and comforting.
Here is a version of Indian pudding that is a little less sweet and more delicate than some, as it is made with a modest amount of maple syrup and only enough molasses to give it a good color and characteristic flavor. It uses the trick of pouring cold milk over it partway through cooking to create a softer texture—and a more authentic one—than those puddings that more closely resemble a baked custard. Both types are good. Vanilla ice cream is more often than not the accompaniment, with whipped cream a fine alternative.
3 cups whole milk
2 T butter, lard, or chopped suet
½ cup Grade B pure maple syrup
2 T molasses
1 ¼ tea ground ginger
generous dash cinnamon
½ tea salt
½ cup RI stoneground white flint cornmeal
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup cold whole milk
Scald the milk together with butter, syrup, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Add the cornmeal and stir constantly until it is about as thick as a thin cake batter, about 10 minutes. Pour a little of the hot cornmeal-milk mixture into the eggs to temper them, then stir the eggs into the cornmeal-milk mixture in the pan. When well combined, pour into the prepared pan and bake for about a hour. Open the oven door, stir the pudding (which will be quite firm), smoothing the top with the back of the spoon, and then pour over it the cup of cold milk. Continue baking for another hour. You can serve the pudding warm (cooled for 20 minutes or more) or cold.