Well written history books describing early cookery in North America always include the very important role of indigenous peoples in helping new settlers learn about the foods of the New World. Fascinating is the marrying of the cultures and the dishes that were turned out as a result.
American Food – The Gastronomic Story by Evan Jones talks about the early incorporation of corn and beans into the diets of the pilgrims. The indigenous peoples taught the settlers how to grow beans, using tall corn stalks as a pole. An early dish that was taught to the settlers was msickquatash, a corn/ bean dish eaten by the Indians, (although the use of the name Indians is currently considered to be derogatory in Canada, it was used in the writing of this book and is still widely used in the U.S.)
The first American Thanksgiving dinner is widely believed to have been in 1621, and consisted of venison, roast duck and roast goose, clams eels, wheat and corn breads, leeks, watercress, wild plums, homemade wine. Not a turkey or pumpkin pie in sight. Settlers from Britain in the New World used corn and incorporated it into their style of cooking.
As time passed and the Thanksgiving feast changed, desserts such as the two following were served.
Indian pudding is a very old dish and is included in many old cookbooks. It demonstrates the use of corn (in the form of corn meal,) to make what was considered a sweet dessert often served on Thanksgiving. The The Fort George Bill of Fare includes a receipt that was sourced from The Pocumtuc Housewife: a Guide to Domestic Cookery By: Several Ladies 1805
- 4 cups milk
- 5-7 tbsp. cornmeal
- 3-4 tbsp. molasses
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. cinnamon or ginger
- Heat 2 cups of mile to almost boiling, and add cornmeal and stir well. Add in molasses, salt and spices and mix together. Pour into a large greased baking dish and pour in remaining milk. Bake at 325 degrees for about two hours, stirring often.
Fast-forward two hundred years. I baked a traditional Indian Pudding using modern corn meal, molasses and a gas oven instead of an open-hearth fireplace. When I tasted the dessert, it tasted bland to my highly sugarized tastes but I topped it with some molasses and whipped cream and it tasted like fine custard with substance.
Thanksgiving Pudding 1 from The Boston Cooking School Cook Book – 1917
- 4 cups scalded milk 1/3 cup melted butter
- 1 ¼ cups rolled crackers 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar 1 ½ cups raisins
- 4 eggs ½ grated nutmeg
Pour milk over crackers and let stand until cool; add sugar, eggs slightly beaten, nutmeg, salt, and butter; parboil raisins until soft, by cooking in boiling water to cover; seed, and add to mixture; turn into buttered pudding dish and bake slowly two and one-half hours, stirring after first half-hour to prevent raisins from settling ; serve with Brandy Sauce.
- ¼ cup butter Yolks 2 eggs
- 1 cup powdered sugar Whites 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons brandy ½ cup milk or creamCream the butter, add sugar gradually, then brandy very slowly, well beaten yolks, and milk or cream. Cook over hot water until it thickens as a custard, pour onto beaten whites.
Fast forward 100 years. I baked a Thanksgiving pudding 1 and found it to have an interesting taste that was moist with much of the taste from the raisins and sauce.
There is an appeal to adding a simpler dessert to the Thanksgiving feast and remembering our roots and times when food was appreciated more because of the work that went into growing and preparing each dish. This was a time when convenience in the kitchen and the luxury of so many easily acquired ingredients was not a part of people’s lives.