Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dear America: Indian Pudding

It isn't pretty, but it smells divine and tastes pretty darn good.  This, my friends, is Indian Pudding. 

But first things first.
The book we're going to talk about today is A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620 by Kathryn Lasky, which is part of the Dear America series.  Dear America, for those who are not familiar, is a series of books written as if they were diaries of young girls living at various points in American history, from the Pilgrims to the Vietnam War.  Scholastic also publishes the My Name is America series for boys; the My America series, in which characters write multiple diaries; and The Royal Diaries, which chronicle the lives of girls who would grow to be powerful (royal) women, from Cleopatra to Anastasia.  They are all written for ages 9-12.

This is my first Dear America book, and I think it's pretty good.  Out of curiosity, I read the reviews on Amazon, and while I know that's not the most authoritative source, it isn't bad for finding out what people think.  For the most part, reviews on this book are positive except for the "antiquated language" (though I don't think the language should be much of a problem for most readers) and the fact that people found out after the fact that this book is fictional.  This part confuses me.  It's a part of a series that you find in the fiction section of a bookstore or library.  But I guess not everyone knows the series or they may not get the book that way... Anyway.  If you know from the start that this is historical fiction, you should be okay.

So.  This book is the (fictional!) diary of a 12-year-old girl who sailed to Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620.  She details her life on the boat, her friendship with another girl her age, getting to shore, the expedition parties to find a good place to build a settlement (she didn't get to go, but her father did), meeting Samoset and Squanto, and the first year of living in the colony.  While the harsh truth is sugarcoated to a point, our heroine (who goes by "Mem," short for "Remember") does talk about death quite a bit - some friends or friends of the family and Mem's own mother - and of being hungry all the time, working to the point of exhaustion, crops not coming up, and the like, as well as the more mundane aspects of life, like boredom and the excitement of getting a present when you don't expect one.

My only issue with this book comes from the over-the-top political correctness.  Mem is fascinated by Native Americans, wants to see them and talk to them, even goes out to meet Samoset without consent from her parents and dreams of going swimming like the native children do (which is forbidden by her society, because too much contact with water is believed to be dangerous).  She admires the Wampanoag people with a sort of cultural respect that just wasn't there in the 1620's.  Not that this is a bad thing - it's just odd in this placement.

Anyway.  Mem talks about food mostly in the sense of growing it, but she does also mention cooking a few things, including pudding made with cornmeal and cranberries - what we today would call Indian pudding.  This she cooks for Samoset and again for Squanto, and is nicknamed by them Miss Pudding because of this.  So, in honor of the fictional Miss Remember Patience Pudding Whipple, I give you... Indian Pudding.

Mem's Indian Pudding
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups whole milk
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 tbsp. packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup dried cranberries or raisins
2 large eggs
1/3 cup of light or heavy (whipping) cream

1. Position a rack in the middle of your oven and set it to preheat at 300.  Grease or cooking-spray an 8x8 or 7x11 inch pan.
2. In a large pot, whisk together the cornmeal, spices and salt until combined.  Whisk in the milk gradually until it is all blended.  Turn on the burner to medium-high heat and whisk the mixture constantly until it is boiling, being careful not to let it scorch.
3. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to medium and stir constantly for two to three minutes, until it gets thick.  Immediately remove the pot from heat and stir in the butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, and cranberries, whisking until combined.
4. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork.  Very slowly - a spoonful at a time - add the cornmeal mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly.  You have to do this a little bit at a time or the eggs might scramble from the heat, and that's not good.  Once it's all mixed together, pour the mixture into the prepared dish and bake it for one hour.
5. After the hour is up, pour the cream over the top of the pudding and tip the pan so the cream sloshes to cover the entire dish.  It will soak in, don't worry.  Bake this for 15-20 minutes more, until the pudding comes out solid but somewhat jiggly.
6. Let the pudding rest for at least 15 minutes before spooning it out and eating it.  I topped mine with homemade whipped cream, but vanilla ice cream would be nice, too.

This is what it looks like when you first take it out of the oven:

That's right: it's not pretty (in fact, when I took it out of the oven, the pudding skin on top had set but the mixture underneath was bubbling a little, making it look like something was alive inside my dessert).  But by this point, your house will smell like gingerbread and you won't care what it looks like.  I had it for dessert tonight with homemade whipped cream (we had to buy the whipping cream for the recipe anyway -why not?), and it was delicious.  It might not replace pumpkin pie on your dessert table, but it's good enough that I will most likely be making this again at some point.

I got this recipe from the All-American Dessert Book by Nancy Baggett, published in 2005.  This book is great.

I hope you enjoy this blog post, since I've been looking forward to writing it for a while.  I know the Thanksgiving countdown isn't working like I wanted it to, but I'm going to stop apologizing because I'm doing my darndest to get everything up, and I have a few great recipes (and great books!) coming.

And lastly.  It has come to my attention that, while I've been bugging you all to email me and tell me what you think, I haven't actually told you what my email is for a while.  (This is one of those facepalm moments.)  It's

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