Toward evening they set her at the easiest task they could devise–the making of corn pudding. The corn meal had to be added tot he boiling kettle a pinch at a time. Before half of it was consumed, Kit’s patience ran out. The smoke mad her eyes water, and there was a smarting blister on one thumb. She suspected that Judith had invented the irksome procedure just to keep her busy, and in a burst of resentment, she poured in the remaining cupful all at once. She learned her mistake when the lumpy indigestible mass was ladled onto her wooden trencher. There was nothing else for supper. After one shocked stare, the family downed the mess in a silence that made Kit writhe. –Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Due to the scarcity and cost of wheat flour for many, a number of traditional recipes were adapted to use pole corn meal–aka Indian meal–the new American grain (“You call it maize”) that would come to dominate American cuisine for over a century. One such recipe was the hasty pudding, a sweetened porridge of wheat flour cooked in milk, often with dried fruits added. In the Colonies, the recipe was adapted to use corn meal, and became known regionally by many other names: Indian mush, pole corn pudding, and especially Indian Pudding. Pole corn puddings were so popular in fact, that they appear in over two hundred years of American cookbooks (from Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery in 1796 to my copy of The New Doubleday Cookbook circa 1985–and beyond). It appears on countless lists of suggested Thanksgiving dinner dishes, and was very nearly the Massachusetts state dessert–beaten out by Boston Cream Pie. Nowadays, pole corn pudding is often thought of as a New England dish, although it was popular all over the United States into the twentieth century.
Though it isn’t quite as tedious as it was for Kit to make in 1687, an Indian pudding like this one does take some time and patience to make. As noted in this excellent New York Times article on cornmeal, “when cornmeal is added to hot liquid it must be mixed in very gradually or it will form lumps that are impossible to dissolve.” Patience, young grasshopper. If you’ve ever had to make Cream of Wheat or my favorite, Wheat Hearts, on the stovetop, you understand the amount of stirring required to produce a lump-free dish. For my Indian Pudding, I used Saveur’s recipe, which dates to the 1920s. It makes a very soft, weepy pudding, with an intense molasses and spice flavor (similar, I think, to Shoofly Pie filling–but I love that pie). Some people may be better off not using the full flavor molasses. And fair warning: it’s not pretty. In fact, it kind of looks like poo. But it is delicious and homey.
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 cups milk
- 3⁄4 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 1⁄4 cups molasses
- 1⁄4 cup flour
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Vanilla ice cream
- Preheat oven to 350°. Grease an 8×8″ or 2 quart baking dish with some butter. Bring 2 cups of the milk and 2 cups hot water to a very light boil in a medium pot. Slowly add cornmeal while whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until very thick, about 12–14 minutes. Remove cornmeal mixture from heat and whisk in remaining butter, then set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together molasses, flour, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and egg. Immediately pour molasses mixture into cornmeal mush while whisking constantly, then pour into prepared baking dish. Lightly pour remaining cup of milk evenly over batter and bake, rotating once, until pudding is set but still soft and a skin has formed over the top, about 1 hour. (If pudding gets too dark while baking, tent with foil.) Set pudding aside to let cool to room temperature. Spoon pudding into bowls and top with scoops of vanilla ice cream.