It might not be pretty, but few New England desserts can compete with the historical pedigree of a bowl of warm, spicy Indian pudding. The dish got its start when early colonists brought with them to America a fondness for “hasty pudding”–an English dish made by boiling wheat flour and water until it thickens into porridge. Without wheat, the homesick settlers adapted by using native cornmeal, known as “Indian flour,” and changed the name of the dish to reflect its new main ingredient. Later, milk from New England’s flourishing dairy industry replaced the water, and spices and molasses, a plentiful and affordable sweetener, were added. The result, baked in a slow oven for hours, was a cold-weather classic, born of homesickness and fed by what was available and affordable, resulting in a unique combination of New England flavors.
Today, we still look forward to steaming bowls of wobbly, fragrant, perfectly golden-brown pudding, served either plain or topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, creating a bonus slurp-worthy sauce as it melts. Recipes are plentiful, but if you’re looking to make an authentic version at home, Kathleen Wall, Plimoth Plantation’s colonial foodways culinarian, suggests using an electric slow-cooker to mimic the dish’s original long, unhurried baking time. “The longer it cooks, the more liquid the gritty cornmeal absorbs,” she explains, “and the more it absorbs, the smoother the texture of your pudding.” For those with patience, the reward is sweet indeed.