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Indian Pudding is a New England tradition that sticks to the ribs

  • Indian Pudding, which dates back to Coloinal times, is a popular dessert at Champney’s Restaurant and Tavern at Old Deerfield. GAZETTE STAFF/Lisa Spear



Staff Writer
Friday, November 03, 2017

Editor's note: In this monthly column writer Lisa Spear indulges her sweet tooth by sampling desserts made at area restaurants.

In the fall, busloads of tourists pour into the streets at the outdoor museum Historic Deerfield, a quaint neighborhood that gives visitors the chance to walk back in time in an 18th Century Colonial village. Here, they can see original architecture from the era and get a sense of what life was like. And some look for an opportunity to taste a bit of history at Champney’s Restaurant and Tavern, an eatery that adjoins the Deerfield Inn, an establishment on Old Main Street that has stood on that spot since 1884. One item on the menu is the traditional New England Indian pudding.

“I know it is a guest favorite and I know it’s been on the menu since basically the opening of the inn,” says Helen Dufresne, who works at the front desk. “When guests check in they ask us if the Indian pudding is on the menu and we know the answer is always yes.”

It’s a simple recipe with a short ingredient list. Milk and cornmeal are whisked together and then simmered in a pot before molasses and spices, such as cinnamon, are added. Egg yolk joins the mixture before it is baked in individual ramekins. It is served warm topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

This thick, sweet dessert is said to have originated with the Puritans who brought their British cooking sensibilities to the Americas. Also known as Indian Mush and Indian Meal it seems to have descended from England’s hasty pudding, a sweetened stove-top porridge made by stirring boiling milk or water with wheat flour. The base for Indian pudding, however, is cornmeal, which the New England settlers picked up from the native Americans, whose abundant corn crop was a staple of their diet.

While it began as a simple cornmeal mush sweetened with molasses, Indian pudding has been dressed up over the years with sugar, eggs, raisins and spices.

Other popular desserts like the peanut butter torte or the crème brulee are rotated offerings on Champney’s menu, but Indian pudding is a mainstay. On average, in the cold months, the restaurant sells about 50 servings of it every week, says Kathleen Childs, the pastry chef.

“Sometimes people will say this is the best Indian pudding they’ve ever had,” she says. Champney’s version is a bit richer than Indian pudding found elsewhere, says Childs, because extra egg yolk is added.

I found it to be very sweet, and, with its thick consistency, unlike any pudding I’ve ever had. It’s not my favorite dessert — a tad too rich and heavy, for me — but it’s a must have for those who want a taste of traditional New England cuisine.

Have you discovered a confection at a local eatery that makes you want to skip the main course?

Email Lisa Spear at Lspear@gazettenet.com.