A Critic’s Notebook: Happy Thanksgiving!

Make it an Indian Pudding Thanksgiving


Happy Thanksgiving!

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I’ve always loved this 1833 painting by Edward Hicks entitled “The Peaceable Kingdom,” and it always puts me in mind of Thanksgiving. The painter originally apprenticed as a painter of horse-drawn coaches in early American rural Pennsylvania. He eventually converted to the Quaker faith and became a traveling preacher. Due to financial difficulties late in his life, he picked up painting again - he’s often classified as a folk painter since he received no formal fine art training - and he painted the above theme, the peaceable kingdom, again and again, dozens of times before his death in 1849. You may encounter versions of a “Peaceable Kingdom” that look very much like this one, or slightly different, or even very different, at museums across the country. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC owns a famous one, and the one above is at the Worcester Museum of Art in Massachusetts. In the background is a vignette of Pennsylvania-founder William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, an image Hicks adapted from a popular painting by the more formally trained and established earlier Pennsylvania artist Benjamin West.

Early Americana, a blissed-out version of American history, and a peaceful vision of human existence: I’m surprised this image isn’t everywhere each Thanksgiving actually. I’m also surprised that the equally evocative, equally blissful, and perhaps equally un-PC-named dessert known as Indian Pudding doesn’t make more appearances on Thanksgiving tables, as well. Indian Pudding is as old as our country, perhaps older. It’s a version of Hasty Pudding, which was made with wheat flour, a recipe which early settlers brought with them from England, but they began using the more readily available “Indian meal,” ground corn, instead of wheat. It’s an echo of America’s colonial past and early settlers’ initial interactions with the Native people, ostensibly the essence of the original Thanksgiving holiday. Like the painting, it’s got some pretty complicated associations due to America’s terrible history, but like the painting which is so lovely, it is delicious.

4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup molasses
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for baking dish
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup black raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 300° and grease a small baking dish.
2. Bring milk to a simmer in a double boiler over high heat. Slowly add the cornmeal, whisking to combine. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for 15 minutes.
3. Slowly add molasses, then remove from heat. Add maple syrup and the rest of the ingredients and stir until smooth.
4. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish, and bake until the pudding is set and the top is browned, about 2 hours.
5. Serve hot or cold, topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.