Friday, November 27, 2009

Indian Pudding

Indian Pudding

Until today I had never made or even eaten Indian pudding, an historical dessert that is neither "Indian" as in chai, nor "pudding" as in Kozy Shack, but one of the oldest truly indigenous American desserts. Key ingredients include cornmeal, a New World staple, and molasses, a sugar refining by-product that appeared in the colonies in the mid-18th century and, along with rum and slaves, shaped the triangular route of early Atlantic trade. Although it's more of a curiosity today, Indian pudding was a fashionable restaurant dessert in many parts of the country for much of the 20th century.

A number of recipes are available on-line; I chose the one given in this CSM article based on its modest butter content. The loose batter of eggs, butter, milk, spices, molasses and cornmeal is cooked slowly at a relatively low temperature, which simulates the embers of a colonial cooking fire. I heartily recommend cooking it in a class dish as it goes through several fascinating stages as it cooks, from initially curdling into something like a scrambled dishtowel steeped in beef drippings, to the late-stage growth of a leathery brown hide.

The final product is something akin to a rustic custard or souffle, with the cornmeal texture pleasantly present and the molasses aroma hovering over the dish like localized smog. It was delicious hot with ice cream, and addictive served cool with a splash of milk; if there's any left tomorrow I'm sure I will enjoy it just as much cold with a cup of strong coffee.

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