"Yes, Indian pudding. You've heard of it," I insisted. "They serve it at Durgin-Park."
"Oh, of course, Indian pudding."
Indian pudding is one of those traditional New England dishes that you never see save for at Durgin-Park, where tourists eat more New England fare in one sitting than the average New Englander eats in a lifetime.
I have to admit that until this week I had never so much as seen Indian pudding. All the more reason for me to try making the Indian pudding recipe I found stashed away in my great-grandmother's cookbook. I was, however, somewhat surprised to see that the list of ingredients contained tapioca. That didn't seem right to me. So, I found a recipe for Durgin-Park's version of Indian pudding, located in the Boston Globe Cookbook, 4th edition. I discovered that its Indian pudding not only contained no tapioca but also required a lot more cornmeal. A full cup of it in comparison to 2 tablespoons.
Suddenly Indian pudding with tapioca wasn't looking so good to me.
You have to think that Indian pudding with less "Indian" wouldn't work. (It's called Indian pudding because of the cornmeal. British colonists applied the term "Indian corn" to that which we in North American call corn to distinguish Native Americans' corn from corn found in Britain, which described anything from wheat to flour. That British corn is not to be confused with the British fungal concoction called "quorn," which is pronounced like corn and, while I was studying abroad in England, resulted in a dining experience so confusing that it made the old "Who's-on-first" routine seem as simple as a power-point presentation.)
Mrs. Ralph Foss, or Anna as her friends knew her, was born in Canada around 1890 and emigrated to the United States in 1908. Her husband was a physician in Peabody, Massachusetts. Why she preferred tapioca I do not know. I thought that perhaps she submitted the recipe during a corn shortage or a tapioca surplus. Yet without knowing when she offered her Indian pudding recipe to a newspaper, I had no luck determining if my theory panned out. Perhaps she just liked tapioca. Or, she knew tapioca can stand up to hours of cooking time and figured she'd see how it would do in an Indian pudding.
Whatever her reasoning, tapioca in Indian pudding works. In fact, save for the Foss version's tasting not as strong of molasses and being a tad more moist than Durgin-Park's Indian pudding, I couldn't find much difference between them.
The Durkin-Park recipe also came sans ginger or cinnamon. I have since learned that adding such spices, or dried fruit for that matter, to Indian pudding is not all that strange. Thanks to a fabulous book called America's Founding Food: the Story of New England Cooking, I now know that there are many, many, many versions of Indian pudding. All or most seem to contain molasses, the kitchen staple that until recently sat in the back of my cupboard for years and years without so much as a pity glance from me.
Anna Foss's Indian pudding with tapioca (yeah, hard to believe the folks at Martha Stewart Living Magazine aren't knocking down my door with offers to be their food photographer)
The Durgin-Park/Boston Globe Cookbook Indian pudding (let the record show that someone other than myself took this photo)