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The Anachronistic Chef: Indian Pudding

This is the first in a series of posts in which I will sample recipes from the days of yore (i.e., not the 1990s). The dishes to be featured were mainstays of nineteenth-, eighteenth- and even seventeenth-century tables, but for one reason or another (unusual taste, archaic ingredients), have fallen out of culinary fashion.

Of course, calling a dessert Indian Pudding isn't so politically correct these days. Anyway, it's a distinctly American dessert, having first been made by residents of the New England colonies for fall harvest dinners. The name for this antique concoction is thought to stem from its resemblance to a similar cornmeal-based porridge eaten by local Iroquois Indian tribes. With the rise of the molasses trade in the late eighteenth century, Indian Pudding significantly increased in popularity, and up until the early 1900s, was a staple of most American cookbooks. Indeed, in her infamous "Boston Cooking-School" text, Fannie Farmer (the Sandra Lee of the late 1800s) provides the following cryptic, albeit concise, recipe for Indian Pudding:

"Pour milk slowly on [Indian] meal, cook in double boiler twenty minutes, add molasses, salt, and ginger; pour into buttered pudding-dish and bake two hours in slow oven; serve with cream. If baked too rapidly it will not whey. Ginger may be omitted."

Despite its autumnal associations, Indian pudding can be a lovely summer dessert, especially when cooled to just below room temperature and topped with a scoop of ice cream. Light but filling, it has lovely notes of cinnamon and ginger and a pleasantly gritty texture.

For those of you who do not trust yourselves to decipher Farmer's instructions, try this slightly modernized version of the recipe:

Indian Pudding

• 4 cups milk • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal • 1/2 cup maple syrup • 1/4 cup molasses • 2 eggs, beaten • 2 tablespoons melted butter, melted • 1 teaspoon salt • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon • 1/2 teaspoon ginger

Preheat oven to 300°F.

In a large double boiler, scald milk (i.e., heat until small bubbles form). Or microwave milk and butter for 5-7 minutes on HIGH until mixture boils. Transfer to a pot on the stove and keep hot on medium heat.

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Whisk in cornmeal and stir constantly until mixture thickens, about 15 minutes.

Mix maple syrup, molasses, beaten eggs, melted butter, salt, cinnamon and ginger in a separate bowl. Add mixture gradually into heated pot of cornmeal and milk. Stir until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Grease 2-quart casserole dish. Pour contents of pot into casserole dish. Bake pudding for 2 hours and then cool for 1 hour. Serve with generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Tip: If pudding mixture is lumpy, run through blender before transferring to casserole dish.

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