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What Is Hasty Pudding?

Everything you need to know about the traditional Colonial dish.

Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc./YouTube

Looking for something a little different to serve at Thanksgiving this year? Few recipes are as closely tied to New England's colonial history as hasty pudding. Although its roots reach back to Europe, this grain-based dessert began evolving into a uniquely American staple when North American settlers first landed on Plymouth Rock. Hasty pudding has nearly disappeared from modern American tables and cookbooks. However, fall might just be the perfect time to revisit this traditional dish. Here is everything you need to know about hasty pudding.

What is hasty pudding?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, hasty pudding is "a mush containing cornmeal or wheat flour stirred to a thick batter in milk or water." The consistency is similar to that of a porridge and it is eaten while still warm. Modern day recipes are often topped with ice cream or whipped cream and plated with a more attractive presentation than the more rustic original version.

America's Table/Facebook

America's Table/Facebook

When was it first created?

While hasty pudding is often associated with colonial times, it actually dates back farther than that. According to Jeri Quinzio's Pudding: A Global History, hasty pudding was eaten as early as the 1600s, although similar dishes by other names go back even farther. Quinzio writes:

The origins of hasty pudding go back to the Middle Ages when gruels or porridges of flour or oats mixed with milk or water were cooked in a pot over a fire.

Is it known by any other names?

Another common name for hasty pudding is Indian pudding. The recipes are very similar, except Indian pudding — also known as Indian mush or Indian meal — includes molasses and oftentimes ginger and nutmeg as additional flavorings.

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Why is it called 'hasty pudding'?

While many different puddings and porridges were popular dishes during the seventeenth century, some recipes required that it be cooked for hours over a low fire. Those pudding recipes that were able to be made in a quicker fashion became known as "pudding in haste" or "hasty pudding" due to their fast cooking time.

Where was it invented?

While the dish has British roots, early Americans settlers made the dish their own in the New World. One of the main differences between the two is that the British preferred the use of flour, while most Americans used ground corn — a crop that was readily available in the colonies. While it originally only contained grains and milk or water, later versions included sugar or molasses as a sweetener and often eggs, raisins, and spices.

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In "From the Kitchen" published in The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Jan Longone discusses the differences between the American and British versions:

We do know that the techniques used in making Indian or Hasty Pudding are age old. We also know that specific pudding recipes very similar in nature appear in early English cookbooks, but these use wheat flour, rye flour, oatmeal, ground rice, crumbled bread or cake, or other cereals and starches in place of the corn meal. Further, there are records that various Indian tribes in the New World were making some form of corn meal gruel or pudding. But it is exactly the combination of the ancient techniques with the indigenous New World crop, corn, flavored with the colonial products of ginger, nutmeg, and molasses, which I believe make Indian pudding a contender for our national dish.

When was the recipe first published?

One of the first cookbooks to reference hasty pudding was Robert May's The Accomplisht Cook published in 1660 in England, which includes three variations. However, the recipe surfaced again in early American cookbooks such as Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy published in 1774. In the book, she includes a recipe for flour hasty pudding, oatmeal hasty pudding, fine hasty pudding, and hasty fritters. For the simplest and most common version — flour hasty pudding — Glasse suggests:

Take a quart of milk and four bay leaves, set it on the fire to boil, beat up the yolks of two eggs, and stir in a little salt. Take two or three spoonfuls of milk, and beat in with your eggs, and stir in your milk, then, with a wooden spoon in one hand, and the flour in the other, stir it in till it is of a good thickness, but not too thick. Let it boil, and keep it stirring, then pour it into a dish, and flick pieces of butter here and there.

In addition to appearing in various cookbooks, the dish also makes a cameo in the American classic, "Yankee Doodle Dandy." The second verse of the song reads:

Father and I went down to camp
Along with Captain Gooding
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding

Are there different variations?

According to The Revolutionary War Era by Randall Huff, there were many different variations of the recipe during Colonial times. Each household put their own spin on the dish, adding or omitting ingredients for different flavors.

Sometimes New Englanders would add pumpkin to their pudding, and another popular variation added wheat flour to the hasty pudding recipe, which would then be baked for Johnnycake, or hoecake.

Video: Watch how to make hasty pudding