Hearth Cooking: 18th Century Recipe

Enjoy a taste of the past with this 18th-century Indian pudding recipe to be cooked in a hearth.
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Preservationist and homeowner Harvey Bennett began his experiments as an open-hearth chef more than 30 years ago. The practice has become more than a charming, occasional re-enactment. He and his wife Paula agree that replace-cooked food tastes better: “I think the bricks add something special to the flavor,” Paula insists, as does, of course, the smoke.

Homeowner Harvey Bennett tends to a spit as meat roasts in front of the open fire.

Homeowner Harvey Bennett tends to a spit as meat roasts in front of the open fire.

“Cooking in fireplaces first appealed to me because it uses the same fuel for more than one purpose,” Harvey says. “I move the andirons and cook over hot coals. Grilling is easy, but roasting is more complicated.” He has explored techniques for cooking stews in a cast-iron kettle with hot coals heaped on the lid.

The couple have collected and developed recipes that date to the 1700s. “Just like there are various versions of popular recipes today, historic recipes differ on ingredients and their quantities,” Paula says. “Still, I don’t think I have ever seen modern recipes in which measurements diverge as dramatically as they do in 18th- century recipes for Indian pudding.” An old New England dessert whose popularity has faded, Indian pudding is still a favorite for this Maine couple on cold winter nights.

INDIAN PUDDING Recipe

serves 6–8

3 cups milk
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup molasses
1/6 cup maple syrup
1/6 cup sorghum syrup*
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 additional cup milk

  •  Heat brick oven to around 400°F (or conventional oven to 350°); grease a 2-quart casserole.
  • Scald milk and slowly whisk in cornmeal.
    Over very low heat, stir continually until thick.
    Add remaining ingredients except for the last cup of milk.
  • Pour into casserole and place uncovered in oven.
  • After 45 minutes, pour 1 cup milk on top and bake for 3 hours in brick oven, 1 1/2 to 2 hours in conventional oven, until top is brown and crusty and liquid thoroughly absorbed.
  • To serve, pour heavy cream over the pudding (it’s traditional), or use vanilla ice cream.

* Paula found some historic recipes calling for sorghum, with a taste similar to molasses but lighter. She also added maple syrup, assuming that a thrifty New England household would have it on hand, the Colonists having learned to tap trees from the Indians.

Hearth dinner is served by the fireplace.

Dinner is served by the hearth. 

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