Indian Pudding

Guys! I’ve been planning to share my recipe for one of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving desserts for the last couple of years and just didn’t get around to it. Not sure why, and I’m not feeling creative enough at the moment to make up a spectacular excuse.

As fate would have it, the universe handed me the perfect opportunity to get this classic recipe on the blog.

VERY classic, like early 17th century classic

You see, local foodie (and amazing human) extraordinaire Miss Maki is “retiring” from her weekly radio show “Simple Kitchen With Missy Maki”. Frankly, I have no idea how she’s managed to put out such an amazing show every week, given how full her “regular” life is. In true Missy fashion, she’s not planning on discreetly wandering out the front door of the studio on her last day with a half eaten canapé in her mouth and a bottle of Oregon Pinot Gris tucked under her arm. Nope. Instead she is planning on spending a last hurrah with her annual Thanksgiving show–surrounded by others who enjoy food as much as she does.

Oh, and there will be booze

On of the reasons I love being a guest on Missy’s show (aside from the pure fun it is), is because of the new things I learn from her an the other guests. I like to think that maybe they learn a little something from me, too :). So, a little Indian Pudding history….

I grew up In New England and, although it has become a hotbed of technology over the last couple of decades, we New Englanders don’t really don’t stray all that far from our long-standing traditions. Thanksgiving is the perfect microcosm for core Yankee sensibilities. You’ll nary find a home where anything other than turkey is served as the main protein, and only the most ‘cultured’ (rebellious?) among us will brine the bird prior to popping it in the oven. Oh, and about cooking the turkey–many in the northeast will fire up the oven at 1:00 am, cover the turkey with foil and cook it at a low temperature for hours while they sleep. Yup, that actually happens in a lot of New England homes where the cook is older than, let’s say, 65. My mom approached cooking the turkey using this method without fail. How salmonella didn’t befall every one of us around the table by the time we were all ready for a turkey sandwich later in the evening, I’ll never know.

So yeah, Thanksgiving is an immersive experience to a New Englander. Now that I’ve lived outside of my native New Hampshire for several years, I feel confident in proclaiming that Thanksgiving takes on a different feel in the Northeast–a feeling I can’t quite put my finger on. But maybe this is all nostalgia talking.

As the land where American Thanksgiving was conceived (giving thanks for the harvest isn’t just an American tradition, BTW), an affinity for the classic desserts we associate almost exclusively with Thanksgiving are a deeply honored piece of how we celebrate. This pudding is one of those recipes.

Chances are very good that if you live outside of New England, you have never heard of Indian Pudding. It’s so common in the region, you can find it in cans in the grocery story around the holidays. I didn’t realize how regional it was until I moved to the Pacific Northwest, where mention of this beloved dessert is met with blank stares or a mildly offended side-eye at the name of the dish (which comes from the history of its origin. I’ll talk about that a bit later). Needless to say, I’m on a mission to share it with whomever is curious enough to try it.

OK, so first things first, this is not a pretty dish–so your Instagram followers will wonder what the hell you were thinking when you decided to put that stuff in your mouth–much less take a pic.

Reminder: looks aren’t everything 

Indian Pudding was conceived by early colonial settlers to New England who were desperate to duplicate a beloved comfort food from home called hasty pudding. More of a porridge than a pudding, this dessert was made by boiling wheat in milk or water with a bit of sugar until it thickened. The first challenge? Wheat was scarce in New England, so the English colonists transformed the dish by substituting cornmeal for the wheat, which they learned to cultivate from Native Americans, hence the name Indian Pudding. Sugar was also difficult to come by, particularly if you were a ‘commoner’, however, since molasses was abundantly available (thanks in large part to the burgeoning rum trade), they substituted it for sugar.

See, I told you there’d be booze

The pudding is simple and inexpensive to make and keeps well once cooked–all important elements to cooking in the early 17th century (and, let’s face it, equally important today). It’s not too sweet, and, true to its heritage, has a porridge-like consistency. Its distinctive molasses flavor is what I love most about Indian Pudding–and the key to why you may decide it’s not for you. Full disclosure–if you’re not a fan of black licorice, you’ll likely think I’m a complete loon for how much I love this pudding. Although the pudding does have, let’s call it “an essence” of licorice flavor (due to the generous dose of molasses), I’m hoping you’ll give it a chance.

The other thing that I love about this dessert is the warm spiciness that comes from a generous amount of allspice. It just screams “it’s fall…it’s Thanksgiving…it’s HOME!”. The kicker is the (BIG) scoop of the best vanilla ice cream you can get your hands on. Because the pudding itself doesn’t have a lot of sweetness, the added vanilla ice cream is the ingredient that makes it a bonafide dessert.

A couple of tips for including Indian Pudding in your Thanksgiving feast. First, pop it in the oven just before everyone sits down to dinner. It’ll take about an hour to an hour and a half to bake, so it’ll do its thing while you all are having your feast. Second, make sure to let it cool for at about 30 minutes before serving. The pudding is best served very warm (not molten!). Third, the pudding can easily be prepared in a slow cooker, so I’ve provided instructions for how under the baking instructions section of the recipe. Fourth, make sure to take the pudding out of the oven while it’s still a bit jiggly in the middle, be careful not to overcook it. Finally, traditionally there are raisins in the pudding, which is how I prefer it, however, I’ve learned over the years that a lot of people have (an irrational?) aversion to raisins once they’ve been heated in any way. Personally, cooked is my favorite way to eat raisins, not so much the rest of the world (or so it seems). Since you’ll likely need to leap over one hurdle convincing some to get over the molasses thing, best not to add the raisins unless you know you have a cooked raisin fan club on your hands (lucky you!).

So, there it is, my homage to Missy Maki and my Indian Pudding send off to her. Here’s to new (tasty) adventures ahead, Missy! ?