Sunday, February 13, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Connecticut II - Indian Pudding, Mom-Approved

While the last post's specifically clear clam chowder is typical of Connecticut, those famous New England desserts are more difficult to pin down to the Nutmeg State.

Snacking State-by-State: Connecticut

Official Name: State of Connecticut
State Nicknames: The Nutmeg State, The Constitution State, The Provisions State, The Land of Steady Habits
Admission to the US: January 9, 1788 (#5)
Capital: Hartford (3rd largest city)
Other Important Cities: Bridgeport (largest), New Haven (2nd largest), Stamford (4th largest)
Region: Northeast, New England; New England (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Clambake
Bordered by: Massachusetts (north); Rhode Island (east); Long Island Sound and Long Island, New York (south); New York (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: Eastern oyster (shellfish)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: oysters, clams, lobsters, haddock, typical New England dishes (Indian pudding, whoopie pie, chowder - including several types of clam chowder), Election cake, apizza (Neapolitan-style pizza pronounced "a-PEETZ"), Portuguese cuisine

I had considered the famous Election Cake, that confection of legend which, as is noted by St. Louis, MO, food writers Ann & Joe Pollack, is yeasty but not terribly sweet. I wanted a sweet dessert, dammit. It shouldn't be such a tall order - there's a reason why super-sweet and cakelike corn bread is called "Yankee cornbread" (one example found on the Pioneer Woman website - I still prefer mine Southern-style though). It is the same with the very sweet Indian pudding, a type of hasty pudding made with cornmeal (as the original English colonists called anything made with corn "Indian"). Funny though it may seem, but Indian pudding doesn't necessarily feature sugar. The recipe I used - from the original modern cookbook, Fannie Farmer's 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook, but reinterpreted by Tammy Donroe from the Food on the Food blog - was sweetened strictly with molasses and maple syrup.

Recipe: Indian Pudding

Donroe comes right out with the love for this dish: "This, right here, is the best Indian pudding in the world" (Donroe, 2010) as it pretty much is the same type of Indian pudding she ate growing up. Unlike with the clam chowder, I followed her recipe much more closely (this time halving it), omitting only the ginger, because I didn't have any. Yes I should be smacked. In its place I upped the nutmeg. This is the Nutmeg State I'm writing about after all.

* whole milk (easy enough to find)
* cornmeal (I used yellow, since no Southern cook would dare use yellow cornmeal in cornbread. I guessed it might be more culturally appropriate to use yellow for a New England dish)
* butter (mmmm, butter)
* molasses and maple syrup (had both - you will need them in equal amounts)
* egg (got it)
* salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger (had everything but the ginger)

Indian pudding is more tedious to make than clam chowder, even if you shuck the clams yourself. The tedium comes not during the baking, but in the prep beforehand.

This is when you first heat the milk - slowly bring it to a simmer, and then slowly whisk in the cornmeal. This is what I am worst at - heating things like milk in a pot without it burning on the bottom. I am especially good at burning things to the bottom of pots. Even constantly whisking and stirring for the 20 minutes the recipe calls for didn't stop a little bit of burning on the bottom, but at least it did not infect the flavor at all.

Anyway, slowly whisk until thick enough to coat a spoon, and then add everything else but the egg, which will scramble. To stop this from happening, you have to temper the egg with just a little of the hot liquid. Add to the batter and pour into a dish. Bake at 325 for 90 to 100 minutes.

Indian pudding, before the oven...

...and after the oven.

Let it cool down for about 20 minutes, and serve. I ate mine with whipped cream.

Unlike Tammy Donroe (and probably, Brooke Dojny and even Fannie Farmer), I did not grow up eating Indian pudding. I hadn't even heard of it until a few years ago (same with that other true Yankee dessert, the whoopie pie, which I first thought was some type of Moon Pie). If I liked lots of molasses, I probably would love this dish. And it is a very good dish. But I hate to admit that the molasses-rich Indian pudding is not my most favorite dessert. It's certainly not the author's fault, since she says it even rivals a famous Boston-area Indian pudding, and Donroe's is a lovely dessert. I don't think it was my interpretation, though maybe I should've gone in for the ginger. It's just a particularly new flavor for me. I could get used to Indian pudding, though I may stick with more Southern desserts. And that is not a dig at New Englanders or Indian pudding lovers anywhere.

Next I head away from the Yankee coast to far more familiar territory than most I've been blogging about. The next stop on my All-American tour takes me across the Chesapeake to the far end of the Delmarva Peninsula. Not the quite familiar "Mar" part. Not the less familiar "VA" part either. Nope, it's all "Del" up ahead: next stop, Delaware.

Sources: "What Constitutes a Good CT Clam Chowder?" Thread started June 16, 2009, by poster Scargod.

Dojny, Brooke. The New England Clam Shack Cookbook. 2nd edition. Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2008. Portions also available on Google Books.

Donroe, Tammy. "Indian Pudding". Food on the Food, April 22, 2010.

Ericalea (poster). "A Family Recipe: Yankee Cornbread". Tasty Kitchen Blog, November 5, 2010.

Pollack, Ann and Joe. "Election Cake". St. Louis Eats and Drinks With Joe and Ann Pollack

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Connecticut" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods webpage link to "Connecticut”.