It’s nearing 4:00 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, and the second-floor dining room at Durgin–Park, a beloved Boston eatery for nearly 200 years (“Established before you were born” it says out front), is getting ready for dinner. Glasses clink behind the bar, uneven wooden floors creak, and sunlight warms the red-and-white-checked communal tables.
One of the city’s most famous spots for New England home cooking and fresh seafood, Durgin–Park benefits from a tourist-heavy location in Quincy Market (in “the dusty shadows of historic Faneuil Hall” as Yankee food editor Nancy Dixon described it in 1946) and a faithful menu of traditional comfort food.
Popular dishes include homemade Boston baked beans, Boston scrod with buttery breadcrumbs, and a signature roast prime rib so large that the bone hangs, cartoon-like, over the edge of the plate. But among customers with a sweet tooth, they’ve come for Durgin–Park’s Indian pudding.
A true New England original, the pudding’s roots stretch back to the Pilgrims, as these early colonists substituted cornmeal (which they called “Indian meal”) for the traditional flour in British hasty pudding. In time, it evolved into a sweet dessert with a slightly gritty cornmeal texture and deep molasses flavor. Durgin–Park’s recipe was taken to sea by clipper-ship captains, and its authentic, rich taste has made it a favorite through the years, despite the dish’s humble appearance.
Head waitress Gina Schertzer, nearing her 40th year at the restaurant, also credits tradition. “Guests come back because they can taste the memories, and that’s why we don’t change the recipes.” For many, Durgin–Park’s Indian pudding, served warm and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, is the recipe gold standard. (The secret is “long and slow” baking in seasoned stone crocks. The long cooking time lets the cornmeal absorb more liquid, which gives the pudding a smoother texture.) Legendary road-food writing duo Jane and Michael Stern have dubbed it “the best there is.”
But is it? Well, as the saying goes, and quite literally in this case, the proof is in the pudding. Whether you make it to Durgin–Park and order a bowl, or follow the restaurant’s recipe and make a batch at home, one spoonful and we think you’ll agree: This sweet New England tradition is one worth keeping.