Thursday, August 9, 2007

Indian Pudding

It seems that any house near the water automatically attains "cottage" status here in Maine. But the cottages seem to be getting bigger and bigger, with more and more modern accoutrements, to the point that they are no longer distinguishable from what we landlubbers "from away"--as visitors are known--refer to as "houses." Except, as I said, they are near the water and happen to be planted in the soil of Maine.

The place where we are staying here in South Freeport comes much closer to what I think of as a true "cottage." In fact, we commonly refer to it as "The Red Cottage," exactly because it is painted red, like a barn, on the outside. The cottage is not winterized at all. There is no insulation. So, from the inside, what you see are all the bare two-by-fours and ceiling joints, as well as the knotty pine boards that constitute the sides of the cottage and the underside of the roof. You also see the electrical wires running here and there to wall switches and light fixtures and wall outlets, occasionally wrapping or turning around an ancient ceramic insulating terminal. The floor boards, meanwhile, have been painted a battleship grey, but overlaid with a playful scheme of dots in various primary colors, so you hardly realize you are walking across a bare wood floor nearly 100 years old.

There are five bedrooms in all, three upstairs in the original part of the house, and two downstairs in a fairly recently renovated basement. So the cottage theoretically (and in actual fact) will sleep 10 or 11 persons, which does make for some interesting situations around the lone bathroom. A second bathroom in the basement would make an abundance of sense, but remains a fantasy for us guests.

You can't choose your kitchen when you are on vacation and this one has its quirks. It is a fun place to work, with plenty of space and the timbers painted a bright yellow. Even the underside of the sink, which is completely exposed without any artifice of cabinetry, is painted the same cheerful yellow, except for the PVC plumbing pipes. There's a microwave oven, separate cabinets for pots, pans, cutlery, placematts and liquor. Conveniently, there are even pots large enough to boil lobsters, something we do frequently, and a blender for making lobster bisque, should the mood strike.

The seal around the inside of the refrigerator door is barely functional. The owners of the cabin have addressed this issue by attaching a bungee cord to the wall. In the even you should need something out of the fridge, you have to unhook the bungee cord from the handle on the door. When you are done, you close the door and stretch the cord to re-attach the hook on the handle. This has been the system for maintaining cold inside the refrigerator for as long as we can remember.

The largest skillet in the cottage is an old restaurant model, heavy steel, whose bottom is so badly warped that the only way to use it is to find a smaller pot to place somewhere under the long handle, so that the skillet will balance awkwardly on the electric burner. Still, there is so little surface area of the skillet underside touching the electric element that actually cooking with it is a challenge.

Another challenge is the electric oven. The thermostat has been broken forever, so that when you set the temperature for, say, 275 degrees, what you actually get is something closer to 55o. This differential in cooking temperatures made itself evident fairly quickly. I think we were making cookies that needless to say baked to a crisp much more quickly than we were expecting. We made a quick study of the oven and I think even wrote out a translation so that we could actually use the oven and obtain the desired temperatures. I don't know where that went, but we did purchase an oven thermometer that still hangs from one of the oven racks, so you can at least see how far out of whack it is and make adjustments.

Again, the owners of the cabin seem to think the hanging thermometer is solution enough. No need to bother replacing the thermostat. We've heard that when other renters complain about the oven, they are told something along the lines of, "There are professional chefs you use that oven and they do just fine." Meaning us, I guess.

But the reason for this post was to talk a little about Indian pudding. Indian pudding, as the name implies, is a traditional New England dish that recalls a time when there was active trading between Boston and the sugar plantations of the Caribbean Islands. The main ingredients are so basic and so identified with the original colonies--corn meal, molasses, eggs, milk, sugar--that there is hardly anything more American. But my guess is there may be only three people on the planet who still know what Indian pudding is. Yet Indian pudding is a favorite dessert of our friend Shelly, who grew up in South Freeport, so we try to make it at least once a year while we are here.

Last night we were eating leftover steaks with freshly sauteed shrimp and my famous three-hour green beans. Our friend Tom, the world traveler and bon vivant, had brought a selection of French wines whose names we couldn't pronounce. We thought it was the perfect meal to be capped off with Indian pudding and ice cream. Be prepared to cook this pudding in the oven for up to several hours (it's not a quick dish at all, but not difficult). We cooked it in a large Pyrex dish. This version if from Marjorie Mosser's "Good Maine Food."

To make a pudding for eight persons, first bring 1 pint of milk just to a boil, then stir in 1/4 cup corn meal. Cook 10 minutes then add 1/2 cup molasses, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 egg (well beaten), 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup raisins. Mix everything together, then add 1 pint cold milk. Transfer the hot mixture to an oven-proof bowl or casserole and bake at 250 degrees for 2 hours, or until the pudding has set. When it has baked 1/2 hour, stir the pudding and add 1 cup of cold milk. It will finish baking on its own.

To serve, remove pudding from oven to cool a bit, then scoop into bowls with your favorite ice cream or perhaps some whipped cream with just a drop of rum.


Kevin said...

One of the first two recipes I collected (at about age 8 or 9) was Indian Pudding.

Ed Bruske said...

Kevin, at age 8 or 9 I don't think I even knew what a recipe was. I was still chasing snakes and frogs...

AnnaMarie said...

I make Indian Pudding quite a bit but I make mine with maple syrup and dried blueberries. Then I add fresh cream on top. Mmmmmm...

Ed Bruske said...

Brilliant adaptation, annamarie. Now it sounds like we've heard from two people who know one thing or another about Indian pudding. That would leave one more person to sound off...

Elizabeth said...

I have been making Indian Pudding since age 12 and I am 49 now. I hate to steal anybody's thunder but no, no, never any fruits; fresh or dried in *any* form of this pudding. Adoring real maple as I do, we must say no to that as well. I hate to be a party pooper but no eggs either. The sugar is to be brown sugar and it must also include powdered ginger, yes common to the settlers from England.

One of the earliest known preserved recipes can be found online at the Concorde Museum and has none of these additions of fruits, eggs and so on. The pudding should be thick, sturdy and nearly black in color from the use of blackstrap molasses.

Only cold vanilla ice cream will do for topping the steaming hot bowls of pudding.

I remember as a child growing up in Maine that we could get this for breakfast as well at local non-chain restaurants that served breakfast.