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Serve up New England classic

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This dense, satisfying Indian pudding developed by Kathleen Curtin, a food historian at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., can be baked for 90 minutes for a classic New England dessert.

Or, for a 21st century shortcut to an old tradition, the final cooking can be done in the microwave in just minutes.

Despite its name, Indian pudding is not a traditional Native American dish. Native Americans had neither milk nor molasses.

But Indian pudding is descended from an Old World staple: Hasty pudding, made from wheat flour, barley or oats, thickened with milk.

Adding New World ingredients – corn, a Native American staple, and molasses, from the Caribbean sugar trade – completed the evolution of the pudding recipe into a “true American original,” Curtin says.

Indian Pudding

Start to finish: 2 hours

(30 minutes active)

Servings: 12

7 cups milk, divided

1 cup molasses

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

2 teaspoons ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup packed cornmeal

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, to serve

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

In a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven, combine 6 cups of the milk, the molasses, sugar, butter, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Place the pot over medium heat. Scald the milk by heating it until it is just about to boil. The milk will appear curdled; this is normal.

In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining 1 cup of milk and the cornmeal. Whisk this mixture into the Dutch oven.

Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, for 20 minutes, or until nicely thickened. Be certain to scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Bake for 90 minutes, or until the pudding is set at the center. It may puff during baking, but will flatten while cooling. Let cool slightly before serving with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Alternatively, the pudding can be finished in the microwave for an English-style hasty pudding.

After the 20 minutes of stovetop cooking, transfer the mixture to a 3-quart casserole dish coated with cooking spray.

Microwave on high for 3 minutes.

Stir the pudding, the microwave on high another 3 minutes. Do this 2 more times, cooking the pudding for a total of 12 minutes. If the pudding splatters during cooking, it can be loosely covered with a paper plate.

(Recipe from Kathleen Curtin, food historian at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass.)

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