Internet Photo. I DO LOVE the typo.
When I signed in early this morning, a title on the sidebar caught my eye with a warm flood of childhood memory. The “Indian Pudding” immediately captured my imagination with a long-forgotten memory of a day in the Winter-time kitchen. Even before I clicked to read it, just the words of the title conjured memories lost to the years---of the day I "made" an Indian Pudding. I suppose I was about eight, already making biscuits and cornbread, and well trusted at the stove.
There had been a story in my "reader" about a little pioneer girl who was home one Autumn day whilst her Mama was quilting all day at the settlement house, and reading about her getting out the sack of meal and stirring up the fire in the wood stove---that just captivated me, as the coziest, most comforting thing to cook on a frosty day. Little Girl stirred up the meal and water, and knocked pieces off the hunk of dark "bought sugar" to season it.
And so did I---more authentically than you'd think, for our own box of brown sugar was always solid as a rock, and required several good smacks with my little hammer, and perhaps a whack on the tile floor, before it would let loose and give me enough sugar to use. I’d even been known to resort to taking it with an ice pick out to the concrete steps, and giving it a good punch through the box, hoping that the piece I’d freed might be the right size.
I’m sure my own mother was at Missionary Society or off to get groceries, for I know I was alone in the house, and could feel every moment of the Little Girl’s work and planning and all the scents and stirrings of the age-old dish.
I think I used water, plain cornmeal, a little salt, maybe a bit of oleo, and the little shards of sugar, which FINALLY dissolved as I stirred it in a pot. After that, I think I could have turned out quite a creditable polenta, but we didn’t hear of that for quite some years yet. The story had gone on to tell about her going outside and losing her one sewing needle into the grass, I believe, and how she was helped in her search by a young Indian girl, but that may have been a whole ‘nother tale. You know me---I just remember the cooking.
But I quite remember opening the door of that big old white Tappan and gingerly putting my hand in, just as she did, even though 300 degrees was right there, as big as you please, on the oven-knob. That’s what my Mother called a “slow oven” and that’s what was in the book. “Slow” and “quick” seemed to be the only two heats they had back in the days of wood stoves, and quite a few of the recipes in our own old cookbooks took it as a given that you’d stoke up the fire or damp it down, depending on what went in and how long you were baking it. (Of course, she MIGHT have baked the thing in the fireplace, and I got two stories mixed up. No matter).
After the baking, it was really pretty, golden and crusted on top, but none of us really cared for it. Mother and Daddy didn’t know we were having it, and didn’t really appreciate the atmosphere of the thing---all the hardship and hard-won food, with the woodsmoke rising and the cabin close and dim. And all my romanticizing of the same surroundings and the cozy warmth and the sweet scents of baking in that long-ago place and time did not quite mask the fact that it was just meal and water, soft and mostly uninteresting, with my guesses and measures.
I took it to our neighbor, whose parents lived with her, and whose requested supper was mush about three nights a week. They "made over" it as if it were manna, so I was quite pleased. (And yes, Grandma P. DID add the usual sacchareeen tablet to her helping. After all, it was “for diabetics” and thus negated all the actual sugar content).