National Indian Pudding Day came and went earlier this month, but all of November is Native American Heritage month. What better way to celebrate than by making Indian pudding?
Chances are if you grew up anywhere but Boston, you’ve never heard of Indian pudding. But the custardy mash of cornmeal, milk, molasses and spices sustained the early settlers of Plymouth colony and remains a hyper-regional New England dish.
Indian pudding is commonly thought to be a descendant of the English hasty pudding, made by boiling wheat flour with water or milk. Wheat flour was scare in the New World, but corn meal – called “Indian flour” or “Indian meal” after the Native Americans who taught the Pilgrims how to use it – was plentiful. Hasty pudding would have had sugar, but its American cousin often substituted molasses, an abundant by-product of Boston’s flourishing 17th- and 18th-century rum trade with the Caribbean. Instead of boiling, early Americans would have baked the pudding overnight in the embers of the hearth, just as they did with their beans.
Written recipes for Indian pudding reach at least as far back as the 18th century. Amelia Simmons, whose 1796 book “American Cookery” is the first cookbook written by an American for American kitchens, offers three recipes for “a nice Indian pudding”: one with raisins, one without and one savory instead of sweet. Amanda Moniz, author of the blog History’s Just Desserts, writes that John and Abigail Adams ate Indian pudding every day. Moniz is also collecting votes about changing the pudding’s now politically questionable name.
If you wonder whether a name change is necessary, consider the comment of iconic food editor Clementine Paddleford, who writes in her 1960 book, “How America Eats”: “It was redman Squanto who taught the Pilgrim mothers what to do with the pumpkin and other food treasures of the New World.”
Paddleford offers four recipes for Indian pudding, including one from Duncan Hines himself – the man, not the cake mix company he founded. “To think of the baked Injun porridge as it is prepared at Toll House, Whitman, Mass.,” Paddleford quotes him saying, “that makes a fellow wish for hollow legs.”
Indian pudding broke its regional bounds, AFR contributor Laura B. Weiss writes in Saveur, in the late 1800s, coinciding nicely with the time President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. The dessert fell out of favor, Weiss writes, with the rise of packaged puddings in the 1920s and 1930s, and had all but disappeared outside New England by the end of the 20th century.
This quintessential American dish – one of the first truly American foods to be documented – should be better known. Do your part by trying it out this Thanksgiving.
Indian pudding is a hyper-regional American dish, found mainly in New England, and especially Boston. Likely created by homesick British settlers of Massachusetts as early as the 1600s, this custardy dish resembles hasty pudding, an English stove-top pudding made with wheat flour and milk or water. Indian pudding is made with cornmeal, known to the settlers as "Indian meal." This recipe is adapted from "How America Eats," the 1960 cookbook by Clementine Paddleford that documented foodways across the country. Paddleford offers a total of four Indian pudding recipes. This one was referenced as a favorite of Duncan Hines, the cake mix mogul.
- 3 cups scalded milk
- 3 tablespoons yellow corn meal
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 300 F.
"Scald" the milk by heating it gently over a medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until just before boiling. It is "scalded" once small bubbles appear around edge of the pan.
Gradually add the cornmeal to the milk, stirring. Cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Add molasses. Beat the egg. Add sugar, butter, ginger, cinnamon and salt to the egg. Add the egg mixture to the hot cornmeal mixture. Mix well. Pour into a greased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake 2 hours, or until just set. Serve warm, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.