I don't know about you, but when I think of Thanksgiving desserts, pumpkin pie is usually the first thing that comes to mind. Which is unfortunate, considering it's one of the very few foods I simply can't cultivate a taste for. Second place on the groaning board of T'day sweets would be apple pie, or maybe pecan. Definitely pecan at my house.
But in all three cases, I (and you, if you're thinking like me) would be way off base, historically speaking. It's far more likely that dessert at the first Thanksgiving dinner wasn't pumpkin pie ~ it was Indian pudding, a homespun cornmeal-and-molasses creation fashioned after the Native Americans' supawn. Colonists at Plymouth, Massachusetts, were likely looking to re-create some familiar comfort foods from Mother England, but lacking the wheat flour or oats that comprised their staple hasty pudding, they made do with cornmeal, courtesy of their friendly new Native American neighbors. Hence the name "Indian Pudding," giving a shout-out to the source.
The sweet-toothed Colonists Yankee-fied the mush by adding molasses, unique to the local maritime trade; spiking it with ginger and cinnamon; and fortifying it with eggs and butter when their livestock finally started cooperating by living through the winter.
If times were especially good, Colonial cooks might have added raisins to the pot and served the whole thing with a pour of good thick cream. Sounds pretty darn good, huh?
It is. To me, it combines the best aspects of pumpkin pie (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) with the satisfying texture of cornmeal porridge, rich with butter and cream and sweet with the caramel undertones of brown sugar. It proclaims, "Autumn is here," without screaming, "I'm a big fat squash ~ in your dessert!"
And guess what? It's even better the next day. For breakfast. Oh, yeah.
Indian Pudding with Cinnamon Cream
• 5 cups whole milk
• 1 cup light cream or half-and-half
• 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter
• ½ cup finely ground cornmeal
• ¼ cup all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• ½ cup molasses
• 3 large eggs, beaten
• 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• ½ teaspoon ground ginger
• Cinnamon Cream to garnish (recipe follows)
1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Bring the milk, cream, and butter to the scalding point in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, and salt. Stir in molasses. Pour approximately 1 cup of the scalded milk in a thin stream into the cornmeal mixture, whisking constantly. When combined, pour the cornmeal mixture into the pot with the remaining scalded milk, stirring constantly. Cook over medium heat until thickened.
3. Whisk the eggs with the sugar until incorporated. Slowly add about 1 cup of the hot cornmeal mixture in a thin stream into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. Then add the egg mixture to the remaining cornmeal mixture, stirring. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger and stir to fully incorporate spices.
4. Grease a 2.5-liter casserole dish and pour hot cornmeal custard mixture into dish. Bake at 250°F for approximately 2 hours, until the top is browned and the pudding jiggles only slightly when the dish is gently shaken. Let cool on a rack for about 1 hour.
5. Serve the pudding warm, not hot, with Cinnamon Cream. Refrigerate leftovers.
6. For Cinnamon Cream: Whip 1 cup heavy whipping cream with 2 heaping tablespoons confectioners’ sugar and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon until it reaches soft peaks. Serve with Indian Pudding; refrigerate leftovers.
- Feel free to toss in some raisins, chopped dates, or ~ my recommendation ~ Craisins, if you like.
- This is great with the cinnamon cream, above . . . or you can go nuts and try it with a scoop of ice cream ~ I like French vanilla, butter pecan, or cinnamon. Or go the traditional route and pour some thick cream over the top right before serving.