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Indian Pudding | Classic New England Dessert

Indian Pudding | Classic New England Dessert
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Indian pudding might not be pretty, but few New England desserts can rival its claim to fame as the most comprehensive of our regional sweet dishes.  It evolved out of an initial British culinary tradition, which was then enhanced by Native American influenced necessity, and finally, flavored with the fruits of New England commerce.

Indian Pudding

Indian Pudding – A New England Classic!

Confused?  Here’s how the pieces fit together.

Early colonists brought with them to America a fondness for British “hasty pudding” – a dish made by boiling wheat flour in water or milk until it thickened into porridge.

Since wheat flour was scarce in the new world, hasty-pudding-deprived settlers adapted by using native corn meal, dubbed “Indian flour,” and flavoring the resulting mush to be either sweet (with maple syrup or molasses) or savory (with drippings or salted meat).

In time, the dish evolved into one that was resoundingly sweet, with lots of molasses and additional ingredients like butter, cinnamon, ginger, eggs, and sometimes even raisins or nuts.  Because New England was a stop in the “Triangle Trade” route of the 18th century (see Note below), New Englanders found themselves with an abundance of molasses on their hands.  Never a wasteful group, they used it to sweeten everything from Anadama Bread to Baked Beans.

Indian Pudding

All good Indian pudding starts with cornmeal, milk, and molasses.

Indian pudding began officially appearing in American cook books in the late 1700’s.  Early methods called for the dish to be cooked in a “slow” oven, meaning at a low temperature, for a long period of time.  The pudding dish was placed in a large, shallow pan, into which a shallow amount of water was added.  The water insulated the dish so it would cook very gently during its long cook time.

Indian Pudding

Indian pudding off the stovetop and ready for the oven.

I confess I tried a recipe that called for the low temperature, long cook time, water bath method…and it was a disaster.  I would have to repeat the experiment to know for sure if I went wrong somewhere, or if the recipe needs clarification, but even after three hours in the oven my pudding looked more like soup.

For my second attempt, I used a recipe  originally printed in a 1978 installment of Yankee’s “Best Cook in Town” feature.  The recipe was recently included in Yankee’s cookbook, Best New England Recipes: Classic and Inspired Fare, so I knew I would be in good hands.

This version omits the traditional water bath and cooks faster at a higher temperature, however, when I removed it from the oven and saw that it had set into an actual semi-firm pudding, I embraced the update.

Indian Pudding

Photo/Art by Aimee Seavey
Perfect for Thanksgiving with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Topped with some whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon, Indian pudding embodies the flavors of fall, and reminds us of how a dish can evolve with its surroundings.

Did you grow up eating Indian pudding?  Do you make it today?  I’d love to know if you have a water-bath cooking method that works for you!

Click to view and print the recipe for Indian Pudding.

Note: The “Triangle Trade” was when slaves were brought from Africa to the Americas, then sugar from the Americas was shipped up to New England to be distilled into rum, and finally, the rum and other goods were sent back to Africa.  Molasses is a by-product of distilling sugar into rum. 

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Aimee Seavey

Author:

Aimee Seavey

Biography:

Assistant Editor Aimee Seavey is a staff writer for Yankee Magazine and assists in the development and promotion of content for YankeeMagazine.com through blogging and social media outlets.
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16 Responses to Indian Pudding | Classic New England Dessert

  1. Jen @ BeantownBaker.com November 11, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    Confession: I’ve never had Indian Pudding. I guess it’s because I grew up in the Midwest or something…

    • Aimee Seavey November 14, 2011 at 10:58 am #

      Hi Jen! You get a pass for that one (we can’t all grow up in New England…) but you should definitely try it sometime. I know how much you love pumpkin, and the flavors and spices are similar.

  2. Bryan November 24, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    A nice addition would be a cup of pre-soaked golden raisins.

  3. Rosalyn Lintner November 24, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    I made it today…My Dad use to eat it all the time at Durgin Park Restaurant in Boston…so its a dessert surprise for him today.

    • Will Roberts November 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

      Ah — Indian pudding at Durgin-Park. Shortly after we were married, my wife and I took her parents, who were not from New England, for a traditional dinner at Durgin-Park. After a great meal, when we were ordering desert, I said to the waitress, “I’ll have the Indian pudding — that’s what I always come here for!” And, in true Durgin-Park style, she replied, “Then why did you eat all that other stuff?”

  4. Betty Cordoza November 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    I grew up in New England, eating Indian Pudding; although I confess it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I really appreciated it! I remember warm Indian Pudding with Ginger Ice Cream from Newport Creamery. As an adult, now living in California’s Gold Country, it’s a rarity in my diet. However, whenever I get to the Colonial House Inn, on Rte. 6-A, in Yarmouth Port, I always order the Indian Pudding.

    • Martha June 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      Betty, I grew up on Indian pudding, too, and this recipe is the same one I found stuck in on e of my mom’s cookbooks. She (and my grandmother) never used the water bath, and NEVER would they add raisins or nuts!
      Love your mentions of the Newport Creamery and the Colonial House Inn in Yarmouth Port – we’ve stayed there, too.

      • Amy O' April 1, 2014 at 9:35 am #

        Martha – agreed! I grew up with my mom making it – with a water bath – and never, ever add raisins or nuts – it just wouldn’t be the same. I can’t wait for later this month when I can get a nice warm bowl of it with vanilla ice cream at the Gore Place Sheepshearing Festival in Waltham, MA. http://www.goreplace.org/sheepshearing.htm

  5. Bruce Murray November 25, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Like Betty, I was in my 20′s when I first had Indian Pudding. I loved it but I I left Connecticut and now live in the Midwest so if I want it I have to make it myself. My wife, raised in Indiana, had never heard of it before she met me. I think the flavor is too strange and not sugary enough for modern kids who eat a lot of sugary foods with little taste.

  6. Linda LeFebvre Ford November 25, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    WOW… I haven’t thought of Indian pudding in Years.. when on Facebook Come a flash fro9m the past from Clair LeFebvre Jones( No relation!!) My recipe is from the original Fanny Farmer cook Book… 4 cups Milk, 1/2 cupellow cornmeal, 1/3 cup Dark Broun sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar… 1/3 cup molasses, 1 teasp, salt , 4 tbls. Butter, 1/2 teas powdered ginger, 1/2 teas cinnamon…..Preheat oven to 275… Heat 2 cups milk until very hot.. Pour slowly over cornmeal, stir or whisk constantly….. Cook in double boiler until mixture is creamy about 10 minutes… add remaining ingreadients mix well… Spoon into buttered 1and 1/2 quart baking dish… Pour the remainig 2cups of milk over the top… Set into another pan of hot water… Bake for 2and 1/2 hrs to 3… until set.. Pudding will become firmer as it cools… Serve with heavy cream or vanilla ice cream!!! Delicious!! and very different!! Wow thanks so much for sharing… I loved this desert as a child in New England

  7. Debi Lionetti November 26, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Does anyone else out there remember when Howard Johnsons restaurants used to have Indian Pudding on their menus? My Mom and I would go there and enjoy it for dessert with vanilla ice cream on top. I have made it several times over the years and the old-fashioned flavor always brings me back to those dinners at “HoJo’s” with Mom!

    • Beverly Shutica September 27, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      I do remember Howard Johnson’s Indian Pudding and was very sad when I couldn’t buy it any longer. Over the years I’ve been looking for a recipe that would taste like their pudding. Did your recipe taste like theirs and would you be willing to share it with me?

  8. June from Ct. November 26, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    I love Indian Pudding! A meal in itself at Durgin Park. Thanks for the recipe, I’m putting it on my Christmas menu. Yes, I do remember it at “HoJo,s” with their great ice cream. My mouth is watering.

  9. Mary Koss April 19, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    I remember the Indian Pudding at the Hearth and Kettle in Hyannis,MA.

    Does anyone have that recipe?

  10. Michele Desmarais November 27, 2013 at 6:28 am #

    I do make Indian Pudding every year. I do use a water bath and watch for it to set up. I have a recipe from my mom’s cookbook. It is a warm comfort food!

  11. Baldur Makepeace Bear October 2, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    I have been making Indian Pudding for years here at home and when I cooked professionally at a rather old nursing homes in Rhode Island.
    This was a favourite dish among the older generation.
    We have it here at home a couple of times a year.
    My recipe is not measured but done by eye and taste.
    Heat up milk and a knob of butter in a double boiler.Add a little salt. Whisk in cornmeal and cook until you have a thick porridge.
    Whisk in molasses and brown sugar to taste. Using straight molasses was probably the original method but it makes a more bitter end product, Try using a 50/50 ratio of molasses and brown sugar.
    Whisk in ground ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves and freshly grated nutmeg, again to taste.
    I myself make it so the ginger and cloves are a bit more pronounced, so light on the cinnamon, very light on the nutmeg.
    Transfer the porridge to an ample sized, greased baking dish (pottery is best, though heavy glass is fine too).
    Pour 1/2′ layer of milk on top.
    Carefully transfer the baking dish to a 350F oven and bake for about 45 minutes.
    Remove it from the oven, stir the pudding and then top it with another 1/2″ layer of milk.
    Bake for another 45 minutes. Stir the pudding again.
    I usually stop at this point but if you’ve got the oven going all day, you can repeat the process a few more times.
    Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or with heavy cream poured on top.
    The image posted of the slice of pudding above looks delicious but is firmer than any version I’ve made. The final product is spooned into a small serving dish.
    Also I would never add eggs, raisins or nuts.

    BMB

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