What makes Grape-Nuts Pudding — a New England comfort-food classic — truly great? The secret’s in the cereal.
By Aimee Tucker
Sep 30 2014
Maple Grape-Nuts Pudding — the perfect pudding.Photo Credit : Heath Robbins
In New England, if you step up to order an ice-cream cone or contemplate dessert at a roadside diner, there’s a good chance you’ll spot Grape-Nuts on the menu. Beyond the breakfast bowl we’ve been known to add these toothsome nuggets to quick breads and vanilla ice cream, but nowhere does the cereal’s subtle nutty flavor stand out more than when it’s the star ingredient in a batch of homemade pudding.
As is often the case with comfort food, Grape-Nuts pudding isn’t beautiful to look at, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in rich flavor. Soaked in milk and stirred in just before baking, the softened cereal settles into a cake-like bottom layer revealed only after you’ve first dug your spoon through the smooth and creamy custard on top. It’s this delectable combination of density and decadence that has us hooked, and it’s the reason we dutifully copy down the recipe for out-of-towners and pleading readers of online food forums and newspaper columns. Like a soft sweater on a dreary day, this is a pudding that offers such cozy warmth that once acquired, it’s hard to do without.
Though it’s a mystery how a century-old Midwestern health cereal evolved into a signature New England ingredient, what’s not surprising is the existence of the recipes themselves. After Grape-Nuts (which, just to be clear, are neither grapes nor nuts, but twice-baked granules of wheat and barley) hit the market in 1897, one of the ways in which inventor Charles W. Post promoted it was in recipe contests. Tempting housewives with cash prizes in return for new and exciting ways to use the cereal was a surefire way to get it into homes and onto tables, while existing recipes for Grape-Nuts ice cream, pudding, cheese casserole, and even meatloaf were offered alongside to whet the imagination, if not always the appetite. Thankfully, it’s been a survival of the sweetest.
Today the pudding might not be as widely adored in New England as a wedge of apple pie with cheddar, but when it comes to a dessert that both warms you up and takes you back, it’s hard to top a bowl of Grape-Nuts pudding. Unless, of course, you’ve got some whipped cream on hand.