Photo from www.roadfood.com
Despite the name Indian Pudding, it is not a traditional native dish. Native Americans had neither milk nor molasses to use in their cooking. They did mix ground corn with berries, and may have had maple syrup. Hasty Pudding and Indian Pudding are basically the same pudding, as Hasty Pudding was an English tradition for centuries. Printed references to hasty pudding in England date to 1599, while Indian pudding recipes start appearing in American cookbooks in 1796.
The love of pudding came with the first colonist in Virginia and was a favorite of the New England settlers. In the colonies, this dish was also known as Indian Pudding, Indian Mush, and Indian Meal because the colonists In colonial days, Indian pudding was a simple cornmeal mush sweetened with molasses. In later years, it was dressed up with everything from sugar and eggs to raisins and spices.
According to the article From the Kitchen by Jan Longone from The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Vol 2, No. 1, Spring-Summer 1986:
We do know that the techniques used in making Indian or Hasty Pudding are age-old; gruels, potages, porridges, frumenties, and puddings were made from earliest times. We also know that specific pudding recipes very similar in nature to those for Indian Pudding appear in early English cookbooks, but these use wheat flour, rye flour, oatmeal, ground rice, crumbled bread or cake, or other cereals and starches in place of the corn meal. Further, there are records that various Indian tribes and civilizations in the New World were making some form of corn meal gruel or pudding, of times sweetened with honey or native berries. But it is exactly the combination of the ancient techniques with the indigenous New World crop, corn, flavored with the colonial products of ginger, nutmeg and molasses, which I believe makes Indian Pudding a contender for our national dish.
The first printed pudding recipe did not show up until the 16th century and the recipe called for bread. In later years, the pudding was dressup with everything from sugar and eggs to raisins and spices.
In 1662, John Winthrop, Jr., son of John Wilthrop (1588-1649), first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote the following about the pudding in his letter to the royal Society in London. (reprinted in New England Quarterly Vol. X No.1  p.121-133):
. . . this is to be boyled or Stued with a gentle fire, till it be tender, of a fitt consistence, as of Rice so boyled, into which Milke, or butter be put either with Sugar or without it, it is a food very pleasant. . . but it must be observed that it be very well boyled, the longer the better, some will let it be stuing the whole day: after it is Cold it groweth thicker, and is commonly Eaten by mixing a good Quantity of Milke amongst it. . .
John Josselyn, in hisNew England Rarities Discovered (London, 1672) also discusses the use of hominey or corn in puddings:
It is light of digestion, and the English make a kind of Loblolly of it to eat with Milk, which they call Sampe; they beat it in a Morter, and sift the flower [flour] out of it; the remainder they call Hominey, which they put into a Pot of two or three Gallons, with Water, and boyl it upon a gently Fire till it be like a Hasty Puden; thye put of this into Milk and so eat it.
In 1796, Joel Barlow (1754-1812), American poet and diplomat, wrote his famous poem called “The Hasty Pudding.” The poem was inspired by his homesickness for New England and his favorite cornmeal mush.
And all my bones were made of Indian corn.
Delicious grain! Whatever form it take.
To toast or boil, to smother or to bake,
In every dish ’tis welcome still to me,
but most, my Hasty Pudding, most in thee.
Hasty Pudding Club: In 1795, a society called the Hasty Pudding club was organized by twenty-one Harvard College students. The club’s purpose was to encourage “friendship and patriotism.” It;s constitution stipulated that every Saturday, two “providers” were to carry a pot of hasty pudding to the meeting. For the majority of the 19th century, prospective members were forced to ingest large quantities of hasty pudding. According to Harvard University historians, the club was founded by students who sought relief from the food the college provided by cooking their own hasty puddings in fireplace pots. With this ritual, the Hasty Pudding Club found it namesake. Today it is the nations oldest theater company, which annually puts on a spectacular spring production starring men in drag.
Today because the pudding is usually served hot from the oven as a dessert and is frequently served with vanilla ice cream, it has also sometimes been called “Heaven and Hell.” In some areas of New England, Indian pudding is considered regional New England fare today, and in some families it is considered a traditional Thanksgiving Pudding. There is even a National Indian Pudding Day on November 13th every year.
This recipe was shared with me by Mary Wright Huber of Tucson, AZ (formerly of CT and MA). Mary says:
“Below you will find my family’s version of Indian Pudding. It is based on an old 1896 Boston Cooking School recipe, which was run by Fannie [Merritt] Farmer. There are many variations of this recipe, some with no spices and some with raisins. One or two even include pumpkin. Although I prefer lots of spices (I am fairly flexible on that issue), and can even see the pumpkin people’s point of view. But I am adamantly anti-raisin! I also think it is a travesty to cook the pudding for less time, at a higher temperature. Many of the newer recipes do this, and I can’t see how one can get the same fine-grained custardy texture. I also think the higher temperatures are likely to form a thick, coagulated layer over the top of the dessert. This recipe takes times and patience, but the reward is great (taste). It not only makes a great dessert (with ice cream), but I have been known to eat it re-heated; with half and half; for breakfast.
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream (whipping)
- 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 4 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Lightly grease a 6- or 8-cup soufflor baking dish with butter (you can use margarine, but DON’T use non-stick sprays).
In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat, scald the milk.
While the milk is heating, pour the cream into a medium to large bowl, add the cornmeal, sugar, molasses, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Add this cream/corn meal/spice mixture to the scalded milk. Cook, whisking constantly, over medium-low heat until the pudding has thickened to the consistency of syrup (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat.
In a bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Temper the eggs by adding 1/2 cup of the hot cornmeal mixture to the eggs while whisking rapidly. Vigorously whisk the egg mixture into the remaining cornmeal mixture. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring until melted.
Pour mixture into the prepared souffldish, and place dish on a shallow baking pan on the center oven rack. Pour enough HOT water into the shallow baking dish to come 2/3 of the way up the outsides of the soufflor baking dish.
Bake until pudding is set, a tester inserted close to (but not in) the center comes out clean, usually about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and remove from the water bath and let cool slightly.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream or heavy cream.
Makes 8 to 16 servings (depending on your sweet tooth).