Indian Pudding

I was watching “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network and Alex Guarnaschelli was talking about “Indian Pudding”, which I’d never heard of. It’s a New England tradition, brought over with the pilgrims, who didn’t have the wheat flour for a traditional pudding so they used milled corn instead.

It is a direct descendant of medieval frumenty, a dish made from milk, wheat groats, and eggs. Frumenty was typically a savory dish and served with meats such as rabbit. Frumenty is also the ancestor of a number of boiled pudding-like dishes, including polenta. Medieval Cookery has a typical recipe for frumenty at their website.

Some time between the early 17th and the mid-18th century, wheat flour was used. In “The Art of Cookery, made plain and easy” by Hannah Glasse (1747) there are two recipes:

To make a flour hasty-pudding
TAKE a quart of milk, and four bay leaves, set it on the fire to boil, beat up the yolks of two eggs, and stir in a little salt. Take two or three spoonfuls of milk, and beat up with your eggs, and stir in your milk, then, with a wooden spoon in one hand, and the flour in the other, stir it in till it is of a good thickness, but not too thick. Let it boil, and keep it stirring, the pour it into a dish, and flick pieces of butter here and there. You may omit the egg if you don’t like it; but it is a great addition to the pudding, and a little piece of butter stirred in the milk makes it eat short and fine. Take out the bay-leaves before you put in the flour.

To make a fine hasty-pudding
BREAK an egg into fine four, and with your hand work up as much as you can into as stiff paste as is possible, then mince it as small as herbs to the pot, as small as if it were to be sifted; then set a quart of milk a-boiling, and pit it in the paste to cut: put in a little salt, a little beaten cinnamon, and sugar, a piece of butter as big as a walnut, and stirring all one way. When it is as thick as you would have it, stir in such another piece of butter, then put it into your dish, and stick pieces of butter here and there. Send it to table hot.”

There are also instructions for how to make fritters from a hasty pudding, which would be like fried polenta.

Curiously, despite the name change from “frumity” to “hasty pudding”, “furmity” (an alternate spelling for frumenty) is referred to in the opening of “The Mayor of Casterbridge” by Thomas Hardy where frumenty spiked with alcohol provides the fuel for the Michael Henchard’s actions in the first chapter.

In “Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches” by Eliza Leslie (1840) there is a recipe for “Indian Mush”:

Have ready on the fire a pot of boiling water. Stir into it by degrees (a handful at a time) sufficient Indian meal to make it very thick, and then add a very small portion of salt. You must keep the pot boiling on the fire all the time you are throwing in the meal; and between every handful, stir very hard with the mush-stick, (a round stick flattened at one end,) that the mush may not be lumpy. After it is sufficiently thick, keep it boiling for an hour longer, stirring it occasionally. Then cover the pot, and hang it higher up the chimney, so as to simmer slowly or keep hot for another hour. The goodness of mush depends greatly on its being long and thoroughly boiled. If sufficiency cooked, it is wholesome and nutritious, but exactly the reverse, if made in haste. It is not too long to have it altogether three of four hours over the fire; on the contrary it will be much the better for it.

Eat it warm; either with milk, or cover your plate with mush, make a hole in the middle, put some butter in the hole and fill it up with molasses.

Cold mush that has been left, may be cut into slices and fried in butter.

Burgoo is made precisely in the same manner as mush, but with oatmeal instead of Indian.

Yankee Magazine (which I *love*) has a great article about Indian Pudding that includes a recipe. You can see the similarities between this recipe and the one given by Glasse and Leslie:

Ingredients for Indian Pudding (From Yankee Magazine)
3 cups milk
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons cornmeal
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cold milk
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus extra for greasing

Instructions to make Indian Pudding:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 325°.
  • In a small pan over low heat (or in a double boiler), scald the milk – meaning heat until bubbles form along the sides of the pan, but the milk isn’t boiling. Whisk in molasses and cornmeal, and cook until thickened, whisking constantly. Remove from heat.
  • In a small bowl, combine the egg, sugar, salt, ginger, and cinnamon; stir into the cornmeal/milk mixture.
  • Pour into a greased 1-quart casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Add cold milk and butter evenly over the top of the pudding. Continue baking about 1 hour.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.
  • Modifications made for rationing/ingredients on hand:

    -Used powdered milk.
    -Used brown sugar (I had no molasses)
    -Omitted the ginger and included a blend of allspice and mace.

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About Jenn

Jennifer writes about Food History and other food-related topics on her personal blog when she is not working full time, spending time with her family, or being a full-time student.
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