Monday, June 28, 2010

Butterscotch Pudding

This is a recipe that I found handwritten in the back of a 1943 edition of The Joy of Cooking. Prior to this, I tried a salad dressing recipe written in that same hand.

As I was assembling my ingredients, I started wondering about the person who wrote the recipe. Was it her recipe? Or was it something that someone else gave her? If she got it from someone else, was it a complete, correct recipe? Had she ever made this dish?

Did the person who gave her the recipe like her?

As I started combining things, and I could almost feel her looking over my shoulder. When she wrote the recipe, did she wonder if someone else might see it and make it?

Imagine what she would have said if someone told her that people all over the world could potentially read her recipe some day in the future. There's no way she could have imagined anything like the Internet back in the 40's.

I started imagining her cooking with me. "Get the teakettle on the boil," she might have said. But I don't have a teakettle. I put 3 cups of water into a glass measuring cup and put it into the microwave, while she eyed me skeptically. Beep-beep-beep. Would she even know what those sounds were? If she had lived a long life, she would know about microwaves, but I preferred to imagine her at the time she was writing those recipes, and I was betting that she wrote those recipes shortly after she got the book.

I put the butter, sugar, baking soda and water in a pot and set it on the stove. My lump-meter was out being calibrated, so I used a rough 3 tablespoons of butter.

Meanwhile, I started wondering what the recipe writer's name was. I went through a list of names...Sadie, Agnes, Molly, Betty. None of them sounded right. I finally settled on Miriam. For some reason, that sounded like a good name for an imaginary old-timey cooking buddy.

When I mixed the second set of ingredients, I realized that my scant-cup measure was missing, so I guessed at that, measuring and then spilling a little out. When I saw the (mix well) next to the milk, at first I thought that referred to mixing up unhomogneized milk, where the cream would have risen to the top. Then I figured that the first four items were supposed to be mixed first, before meeting the boiling water.

Actually, the flour should have been mixed with the sugar first, before adding the milk. I dumped it all together, and the flour got clumpy.

Miriam shook her head at my mistake, tut-tutting that I should have known better, and now I was going to have to whisk like mad to get rid of the lumps. Instead, I pulled out my trusty stick blender and made short work of the nasty lumps.

Then the hot water went in, which I guessed was supposed to temper the eggs. Then the whole mess joined the sugar mixture on the stove, and I stirred and waited for it to thicken.

I was a little skeptical about the instruction to boil the mixture because of the eggs. I got it up to a simmer and waited for it to either curdle or thicken. And it did thicken. I took it off the heat and put a little bit into a small dish and put it in the fridge to cool.

Once it thickened, it looked almost exactly like a gravy I'd made over the weekend. Butterscotch pudding these days looks an orange-brown. This was a tan-brown.

Yup, it was thick. And it tasted like raw flour. And it was a bit gritty. I remembered Alton Brown ("Who?" Miriam asked.) saying that it takes about 20 minutes to get the raw flour taste out of a gravy if you don't start with a roux. That's one reason why I decided to taste it before I chilled it. I suspected that it wasn't enough to just boil until it thickened, but that I'd need to boil longer to get the flour taste out.

So, Miriam, did you boil this stuff for 20 minutes, or did you serve it all floury tasting?

She didn't answer, and I kept stirring. By the time it lost the raw taste, it had also reduced. A lot. It was going to be way too thick to be a pudding. I added a cup of water and stirred that in. I tasted it, and decided that it needed help. I added a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of vanilla and 1/2 cup of heavy cream, and stirred all that in.

The resulting pudding was better, but still not great. Where the salad dressing was too tart, this pudding was too sweet. Not horribly so on first taste, but too sweet for me to want to eat much of it. And the texture wasn't great. Pudding made with cornstarch is not only faster, but it's smoother than this.

I'm beginning to question Miriam's taste.

I tried to salvage this recipe by making ice cream out of it, and that didn't help. The texture was still wrong and the flavor didn't improve. The best thing I got out of this recipe what a photo of a tiny scoop of it, with a bit of whipped cream on top that looks like a face.

It does look like a face, right?

Or has cooking with Miriam driven me completely mad?


Bonnie said...

way too funny! I have a few cookbooks with added recipes from the 60's but I know who the author of these recipes are, my grandmother. I have often wondered how they would turn out, but I haven't been brave enough to try them, yet...I have a little more time on my hands lately so perhaps I'll try my own hand at creating the little gems of my grandmother's (at least she thought so) LOL!!!

Jennifer Field said...

It totally looks like a face. Miriam should not be allowed near the kitchen.

Donna Currie said...

Poor Miriam. She tried so hard.

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