Friday, July 30, 2010

Indian Pudding(s)

"Indian pudding?" my incredulous mother asked me.

"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)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


There is something terribly wrong about my including a post on Moxie in a blog on bygone food. In my world Moxie is anything but bygone. If it were socially acceptable to drink Moxie for breakfast, I would. If soda in any form--let alone an especially delicious one made of gentian root--did not induce obesity, I would drink Moxie and nothing but Moxie.

That said, I've lived outside of New England and know that most Americans have never heard of it. Who am I kidding? I lot of New Englanders don't know of Moxie or, worse, turn their noses up at it because it doesn't taste like pure sugar.

Invented in 1876 as a cure-all tonic by homeopathic physician Dr. Augustin Thompson of Union, Maine, by 1885 Moxie was on its way to becoming a nationally-known soda. Yet in the 1930s the producers of Moxie backed away from their popular advertising campaigns and the soda's regard began to wane.

At least the sensible people of Maine knew enough to make it the official state soft drink.

One of my smaller goals in life is to turn people on to Moxie. Anyone who visits me from outside of New England has to at least taste it. Anyone who claims not to like it or who derides it as medicinal must try it three times before I stop badgering them.

Recently, Fox 25 News out of Boston named Moxie the best soda in New England. Don't think I won't be including that in my Moxie arsenal.

I vividly remember my first Moxie experience. My grandfather and I were walking down an aisle at a Trucchi's supermarket when I saw this bright orange bottle of soda that featured a man pointing his finger at me. How could I not stop? To my shock, my grandfather (a Coca-Cola man, I thought) agreed to buy the bottle. He seemed unusually excited, telling me how he drank it as a kid in the 1920s and how his father, a native of Nova Scotia, loved the stuff.

I have to admit that Moxie was a little too much for my pre-K palete. But I kept trying it and kept trying it until, finally, I was in love. When I moved back to New England a few years ago, one of the first things I purchased was a bottle of Moxie.

This past weekend I made it to the tail end of the Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine. Sadly, I cannot report much on what happened there, but, while shopping for t-shirts, Moxie ice cream, and Moxie at Kennebec's, I overheard that at least 450 people attended. I've also read reports of an annual attendance of 40,000.

Hopped up on Moxie ice cream mixed with Moxie, we noticed some wonderful sights as we departed Lisbon Falls. I melted when I saw three kids laughing and sipping Moxie on a white front porch. The Jesus-Is-Our-Savior-Moxie-Is-Our-Flavor sign at St. Matthew's Church almost made me choke (with laughter) on my Moxie. Then there was a local bank's electronic proclamation that it was closed for the duration of the Moxie Festival.

Lisbon Falls, Maine. Where everyone has their priorities straight.

On a side note, later that evening one of the bright orange Moxie t-shirts we bought at Kennebec's alerted a distracted, cell phone-addled driver that our car was right in her path despite not being in her designated lane. Seeing our Moxie, she quickly swerved and avoided plowing into us. It's safe to say that a Moxie t-shirt saved our lives.

How can anyone not like this stuff?