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Sunday, September 6, 2009

What Is Indian Pudding?

Indian pudding is a dessert made of cornmeal boiled with scalded milk, sweetened with molasses, and cooked slowly until thickened, then baked until set. It is most typically served warm with hard sauce, ice cream or whipped cream, heavy cream, or cider sauce. It may also be sliced and eaten cold as a breakfast dish.

Indian pudding dates to the Colonial days of America, when newly arrived Colonists at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and elsewhere sought to re-create the dishes of their homeland with the ingredients they hand available to them in the new land. Indian pudding is derived from the British hasty pudding, a dish made from wheat flour or oatmeal boiled with milk. Colonists did not yet have quantities of wheat flour, so they made their hasty pudding with cornmeal, which they had in abundance, thanks to the Native Americans, or Indians—hence the name. The Native Americans themselves enjoyed a version of this dish called supawn, a boiled cornmeal mush.

To flavor their Indian pudding, the Colonists added spices such as ginger and cinnamon, and they fortified it with eggs and butter, when available. A distinctly Yankee touch was the addition of molasses, which was a product of the local maritime trade. The Shakers made a variation of Indian pudding that replaced the molasses with maple syrup as a sweetener. For further embellishment, Colonial cooks might have added raisins into the boiled cornmeal mixture before baking, or topped the finished Indian pudding with a healthy slug of thick cream.

Today, Indian pudding remains a popular dessert, especially in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. Its appeal has expanded beyond the New England region, particularly at Thanksgiving time. Indian pudding has a comforting, homey texture; is inexpensive and relatively easy to prepare; and as a bonus, it has some surprising health benefits.

Cornmeal, the main ingredient in Indian pudding, contains potassium, folate, vitamin A, and phosphorus. Enriched cornmeal contains riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine as well. Prepared with eggs and milk, Indian pudding is a source of both protein and calcium. Blackstrap molasses, used to sweeten the dish and give it its characteristic flavor and color, is a good source of several minerals, including iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Low-fat milk may be used successfully in the recipe, and butter can be replaced by margarine or omitted altogether.

Although many connoisseurs of this traditional dessert would be hard-pressed to forego the customary scoop of vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream melting lusciously overtop, some of the more health-conscious might be persuaded to swap it for frozen yogurt.

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