Historical Baking: Indian Pudding

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedintumblrmail

By: Fernanda Perrone

Many of the cookbooks on display in Special Collections and University Archives’ exhibition From Cooking Pot to Melting Pot: New Jersey’s Diverse Foodways contain recipes for Indian pudding.

Recipe for Indian pudding from Margaret Baldwin’s scrapbook. Margaret Baldwin of Highland Park pasted her favorite recipes into this scrapbook for over 50 years.

I had never heard of this dish, so I became curious about its history and thought I might even try to make it. Unlike my intrepid colleague Tara Maharjan, who has documented her efforts at historical baking on this blog, I used a contemporary recipe from the Joy of Cooking. In the spirit of the exhibit, I was interested in how recipes originally associated with particular groups had changed over the years, in some cases entering the mainstream.

Indian pudding is a type of baked pudding, which are much firmer and more substantial than soft and creamy cornstarch puddings, because they include a significant amount of flour or other grain. Its main ingredients are milk, cornmeal, molasses, and spices. Indian pudding is a classic New England dessert, which, according to culinary lore, dates back to the Pilgrims. It may have its roots in British “hasty pudding,” made from boiling wheat flour in water and milk until it thickened into a porridge. In the American colonies, Europeans learned from Native peoples to substitute corn meal, which was indigenous in the New World, for wheat flour, thus giving birth to Indian pudding.

As in New England, Europeans in New Jersey learned about growing corn from Native Americans. The Lenape or Delaware Indians who lived in New Jersey were farmers, although they supplemented their diet by hunting and fishing. They grew over 12 kinds of corn. “Hard” corn was dried and pounded into cornmeal to make bread and other products. Corn and beans were staple crops, although they also cultivated squash, pumpkins, and tobacco. The Europeans who settled in New Jersey beginning in the mid 17th century included Swedes, Dutch, and Finns, Germans, and other ethnicities, although by the 18th century, settlers from the British Isles began to dominate. It is easy to imagine a settler cooking Indian pudding over an open fire.

It is likely, however, that Indian pudding was a construct that emerged during the Colonial Revival of the late 19th and early 20th century. The centennial of the United States in 1876 brought forth new interest in the early history of the country. Most often associated with architecture, the Colonial Revival was also expressed through restaurant design, food advertising and the popularity of works like The Colonial Cook Book (1911). This cookbook included no less than five recipes for Indian pudding, along with recipes for baked beans, pies, and other supposedly colonial dishes. In Colonial Revival iconography, corn, the New World staple, became a symbol of national pride and patriotism through its association with America’s indigenous past. It also hearkened back to a time of mythical cooperation between Native Americans and Europeans, epitomized by the Thanksgiving Day feast, where Indian pudding was a frequent dessert.

Although Thanksgiving has past, this week’s cold weather seemed a perfect time to make Indian pudding. I felt the weight of culinary cultural imperialism on my shoulders as I assembled the ingredients, noting the depiction of a Native American on the package of Indian Head-brand cornmeal.

Photo of Ingredients

I mixed the cornmeal with the milk, realizing I was going to spend a considerable time standing in front of the stove stirring.

Bowl of cornmeal and milk

The mixture thickened nicely and I added the molasses, butter, sugar, salt, and spices. To my surprise, the pudding was supposed to bake for 2 ½ to 3 hours! I was glad I had started early.

Pudding in baking dish

After 2 ½ hours, the pudding had a brown crust on top and was bubbling alarmingly. I left it to sit for 45 minutes, and then served it with a little milk. The recipe suggested cream or vanilla ice cream. The pudding was still hot and had a delicious flavor of molasses and a smooth but hearty texture. It was enjoyed by all!

Pudding in baking dish with a cat

From Cooking Pot to Melting Pot: New Jersey’s Diverse Foodways will be on display in the Special Collections and University Archives Gallery through February 28, 2019.

https://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/news/new-exhibit-cooking-pot-melting-pot-new-jersey-s-diverse-foodways-opens-november-12-alexander


References:

Carroll, Abigail. “’Colonial Custard’ and ‘Pilgrim Soup’: Culinary Nationalism and the Colonial Revival.” Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 2007.

“Indian Pudding,” A Family Feast, 2019 https://www.afamilyfeast.com/indian-pudding/

Lurie, Maxine N. and Richard Veit. New Jersey: A History of the Garden State. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012.

Rombauer, Irma S. , Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. Joy of Cooking. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Veit, Richard Francis and David Gerald Orr, ed. Historical Archaeology of the Delaware Valley, 1600–1850. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2014.

 

A Second Attempt at Historical Baking

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedintumblrmail

Back in May of 2016, I had my first attempt at trying to bake from a historical recipe. (You can read about it here.)  Over a year later I decided to give it another try, this time with a different recipe.  In looking through old cookbooks, I stumbled across a Swiss Cake in an 1881 copy of Betty, the bishop’s lady, or, Choice receipts from experienced housewives, published in Newark, New Jersey.

Recipe for Swiss Cake.

The description that reads, “This makes a good and inexpensive cake” really sold me.  The ingredients seemed normal for a cake recipe and they were all things that I had home.  It was perfect.

I collected my ingredients and measured them out as the recipe stated.  The recipe states to flavor with nutmeg or lemon, however, I am not a fan of nutmeg on its own so I added one and a half teaspoons of cinnamon and a fourth of a teaspoon of nutmeg.

Ingredients for Swiss Cake.

I creamed my butter and sugar, added my eggs and condensed milk, then slowly incorporated my sifted flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

KitchenAid mixer.                  Measuring evaporated milk.

It was at this point that I realized my 21st century baking skills did not translate well to 1880’s baking.  My batter was thick, too thick to be a cake batter, but resembled cookie dough instead.

Batter mixed together.

The recipe called for “sweet milk,” in my modern mind that meant condensed milk, which is what I used.  But it turns out that “sweet milk” is just whole milk.  In older recipes “sweet milk” was used to differentiate from “sour milk” meaning milk that was left out to sour or in some cases it meant buttermilk.

The “batter” was made, it tasted good, but it did not seem like it would bake well as a cake.  I tested this theory by making a few mini-cupcakes. After 10 minutes of baking they were still raw on the inside, after 15 minutes of baking they were cooked though, but were rather dense and not very enjoyable.

Eight mini cupcakes in cupcake tin.                 Mini cupcake broken in half to show the center

Since the “batter” seemed more like cookie dough to me, I made them into cookies instead.  They baked in 13 minutes, were soft, and rather delicious.  While I did not end up with Swiss Cake, I did get some enjoyable cookies.  Maybe my next attempt at historical baking will be more successful.

Cookie dough on cookie sheet                Breaking a cookie in half

 

Swiss Cake Cookies

Ingredients

1/4 cup (half a stick) butter

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

2 1/2 cups flour – sifted

8 oz condensed milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Set oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream together sugar and butter.
  3. Add eggs and condensed milk to the sugar and butter.
  4. Combine sifted flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Slowly add to wet ingredients.
  5. Once well combined, drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 13 minutes, rotating halfway though.
  7. Enjoy!

#AskAnArchivist

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedintumblrmail

#AskAnArchivist day is an effort from the Society of American Archivists to bring awareness to the archival community, but also an opportunity for repositories to answer questions about their collections and their jobs. This year Rutgers Special Collections and Univeristy Archives participated for the first time on Twitter (@Rutgers_SCUA). Digital archivist Caryn Radick and processing archivist Tara Maharjan were available for an hour and a half to answer questions.

Flyer for #AskAnArchivist Day.
Throughout the day, they shared other fun facts about the collections in SC/UA. Such as, what is the most glittery item? That would be this untitled work by Miriam Schapiro.

Untitled work by Miriam Schapiro that uses glitter.

What is the oldest item? A Didrachm coin minted between 280 B.C.E.-276 B.C.E.

Didrachm coin minted between 280 B.C.E.-276 B.C.E.  An unevenly round coin with a profile of a man's face with a cap.

Newest acquisition? That would be this folding chair that President Barack Obama sat in during his Rutgers 250 anniversary commencement address.

White folding chair.

Oddest item? Probably a mummified cat. It was donated in 1954 and not much is known about it except it is from Egypt.

Mummified cat.

We were able to share some behind the scenes videos and photos of our collections to answer question like have you ever wonder about the trip our materials take from our closed stacks up to our reading room in the dumbwaiter? Well now you can wonder no more.

Ever wonder about the trip our materials take in the dumbwaiter? Wonder no more. Let's take a trip! #AskAnArchivist

Posted by Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

 

We were able to share some other fun facts, including that not all of our materials are stored on-site.  We have other facilities on the Rutgers Campus which hold some of our boxes.  Here is one such building with an archivist for a size reference.

Archivist standing in front of a wall of boxes that is floor to ceiling.

 

We shared some of the toughest things about being an archivist.  First, the handwriting can sometimes be tough to read:

Small piece of a letter with cursive handwritting

Can you read it?  It says, “…is away from her and now Old Rutgers means much more to me than ever before. I am…”

Second would be how physical being an an archivist really is – it requires people to lift ~40 pounds, to be able to move pallets of boxes, and use the movable shelves.

 

But one of the best things about being an archivist (we think) is stumbling across images with cute animals.

1950s photograph of a woman holding a lamb.

 

We had so much fun with #AskAnArchivist Day.  We look forward to participating again next year.  If anyone has questions about our archives or about being an archivist you can always reach out on social media @Rutgers_SCUA or by email at scua_ref@libraries.rutgers.edu.  We will leave you with some more highlights from the day.