Ode to Indian Pudding

You may recall that last summer I went on a week-long, beef-mad binge that included a trip to Boston, to the venerable Durgin Park restaurant near Faneuil Hall…

…in order to taste (more than taste!) their renowned prime rib.





It was divine. But I had no idea what divinity awaited me at dessert.

“Would you like to try our Indian Pudding?” asked Durgin Park’s chef, Melicia Phillips.



It took a little convincing. I was loaded with prime rib. And my sweet tooth is not among my more prominent molars.

But…I’d never had Indian Pudding before, and had always been curious about it. For starters, I love the bold-faced, politically incorrect name, which comes from the old New England designation of cornmeal as “Indian meal.” If it were called “Native American Pudding”…it just wouldn’t be the same!

Indian Pudding it remains, however, with no taxonomic changes…and the ingredients haven’t changed for a few centuries, either. Most basically, it is a combo of cornmeal, molasses and eggs that gets cooked for a long time, until it’s a kind of soft, grainy sludge…that is brimming with old-fashioned harvest flavors. Drop a scoop of vanilla ice cream on it, as they do at Durgin Park…

…and you have got one comfort food extraordinaire, a world-beating dessert! Perfect for holidays, fall and winter…but, remember…I loved it in July!

Summer thrills notwithstanding, I set out to reproduce Durgin Park’s dish right now, just in time for Thanksgiving.

I got the recipe from Durgin Park itself, which you as well can access from their web site. But I tweaked it in a few ways. For starters, I halved it…so that making Indian Pudding is not a commitment to feed an army; my version is an Indian Pudding for a table of four. Anytime Food!

Along the way, I discovered that my take on it is a little different. One of the glories of Indian Pudding is the long, long cooking…as the corn meal and molasses entwine molecules, resulting in a flavoury mix that God couldn’t pull asunder. But with the smaller quantity in my version, and the retention of a long cooking time…something like a skin develops around this Indian Pudding…which is glorious!

This adds a bit of adult bitterness to the treacly confection, which I distinctly welcome! The mixture within is a little firmer…

…but I welcome that too!

Notice that all of these glories occur because I retained the Durgin Park suggestion for the cooking vessel: a stone crock. Now, you could cook this baby in the oven in any vessel you want (like a casserole pan), but I can’t predict your results. I now KNOW what’s going to happen with this recipe in any stone or porcelain crock of a certain size:

This crock is 5 1/2″ high, and 4 1/4″ in diameter. It should hold 4 cups of liquid. If you have something with “almost” proportions…should be no problem.

Lastly, I did play around with one key ingredient: molasses! Nothing informs the flavor of this thing as much as molasses, and I wanted to get it right. In the photo below, my first version of the Durgin Park recipe is a lot lighter than the version above from my restaurant meal:

So I made a leap. I decided to NOT halve the molasses amount, meaning there’s a higher ratio of molasses in the recipe below. AND…I’m recommending you use the darkest, strongest molasses if you can find it: blackstrap molasses (which is also said to have some health benefits!)

Now, pilgrims, you are good to go.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

My Version of the Durgin Park Indian Pudding

makes four hefty servings

3 cups mik
1/2 cup black molasses
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
4 big scoops vanilla ice cream (for garnish, optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Mix together 1-1/2 cups of the milk with the molasses, sugar, butter, salt, baking powder, egg, and cornmeal. Pour the mixture into a stone crock that has been well greased with butter and bake in the 400-degree oven until the mixture begins to boil.

3. Heat the remaining 1-1/2 cups of milk until it simmers, and stir it in, blending thoroughly.

4. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake 5 hours. Let rest for 30 minutes.

5. Serve warm in bowls, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of each if desired.