Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cape Cod, Indian Pudding and Cornmeal Cookies


I have good memories of my childhood summers on Cape Cod. My father would run on the beach while I turned cartwheels beside him. The frigid water never dissuaded me and my sister from swimming in the rough surf of the Atlantic until our lips were blue and our skin covered in goose bumps. We'd run up and down the sand dunes to warm up and search for treasures on the beach during low tide. The beach is a magical place for a child.



Roman and his cousins equally loved romping in the cold water of Cape Cod Bay. After last year's Sardinian vacation, it was nice to introduce our boy to a taste of my past much closer to home.


During any given week on a New England beach, whether in June or August, a combination of sunshine and a few days of rain and cold are to be expected.

Lucky for us, the town of Sandwich, Massachusetts, has much to offer beyond ocean. As the oldest town on Cape Cod, you can step back in time as we did when we visited Dexter Grist Mill, functioning since 1654.


This working mill features a 54 inch French millstone. I bought a bag of freshly ground cornmeal and eagerly imagined how good it would taste in the recipes provided by the mill.


Organic and preservative free, it's highly perishable and must be kept dry and cold. I've never seen cornmeal with a comparable texture and flavor.



Visiting the Mill got me thinking about how much harder life was 400 years ago. People had none of the ease of living that we know today. It makes me think people didn't complain about petty things that we find annoying in our every day life, and that folks were just tougher all around. When I went to make the cornmeal cookies, I wondered how long it would take me if I actually creamed the butter and sugar by hand, and that to do so would likely be the most challenging household chore of my day.


The refined sugar we know today was not available back then anyway. And the "hasty pudding" that takes 3 hours in a conventional oven would have required a lot of chopped wood to feed the fire in order to slow-cook a pudding. I can't say with certainty that America's earliest settlers actually ate these dishes. As people who suffered many hardships and bathed only once a year, they would have envied the ease with which I casually whipped up not just one, but two rich desserts and then gave Roman a heated bath just by turning on a faucet.


The correct name for hasty pudding is "Indian pudding," a traditional New England dessert. Although it's tempting as a hearty winter dessert with the molasses, ginger and cinnamon combination, it works equally well served in the summer, eaten cooled and topped with ice cream. If you're eating it on Cape Cod on one of those cold, gray days, you just might prefer it warm.


Recipes created by Ethel Goralnick for Dexter's Grist Mill Stone Ground Cornmeal

Cornmeal Cookies
Makes 24

The coarsely ground meal gives these a pleasant crunch. I used very plump and fresh raisins so there was no need to soak them first.

3/4 cup butter at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350. Cream the butter and sugar together (I used a Kitchen Aid). Add egg and beat. Mix in dry ingredients, adding raisins last. Drop onto a greased cookie sheet, and bake for approximately 15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Baked Indian Pudding
Serves 5-6 people

I used 2% milk (part-skim) and the result was still very rich. I would not recommend skim or fat free milk, however whole milk would be appropriate for this dessert. Top with highest quality vanilla ice cream or cream.

3 cups milk
4 tablespoons cornmeal
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg (beaten)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
butter, size of walnut
1 cup milk

Heat the milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Mix together the cornmeal and molasses and stir into the hot milk. Cook until it thickens, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and stir in egg, salt, ginger, cinnamon, sugar and butter. Mix thoroughly. Pour into a buttered baking dish and bake 1/2 hour at 300. Pour remaining one cup of milk over the pudding and continue to bake for another 2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.


  1. Hmmmm ... cornmeal cookies!!??

    Anyway, I've always wondered, was the cornmeal gritty? I've read of indian skulls being found with the the teeth very worn from the stone ground cornmeal.

  2. This post makes me MISS New England so much! I have self-rising cornmeal in the pantry - would that work in these recipes?

  3. New England just got to the top of my places to visit in the US list! And those cookies look great!

  4. OldSoldier: The cookies are amazing! The stone ground cornmeal has a pretty rough texture.

    Courtney: You could probably use the self-rising cornmeal for the cookies (omit baking powder) but not for the pudding.

    Pola, you must visit New England, autumn is also beautiful here.

  5. Nicole: what a romantic post! it must feel so special to return to the place of your childhood summers (for as beautiful as Italy is, this is home for you!). Home is home. Period. I have visited amazing places, but I do tend to romance Italy because it is home to me! Roman looks happy and New England is a magical place (my husband's family is from there). Your thoughts on the ancient lifestyle are so spot on with my recent thoughts on slow food. BTW, we have a type of cornmeal cookies in Italy called "Crumiri" which you might want to try (they are delicious with "Zabaglione"). Sending you love, Amelia

  6. Hi Nichole,
    Many of my childhood summers were spent on the north fork of Long Island, where we swam in the chilly Sound and the warmer Peconic Bay.
    We stayed in little dollhouse cottages built in 1920's.That end of the Island has a distinct New England feel, and your stunning photographs reminded me of that. Lovely.

    Cornmeal is such a staple here in the South, and I enjoy seeing it used in so many creative ways, with different cultural slants. The texture of Dexter's looks amazing--and must yield intense flavor.

  7. This is one of my favorite posts yet. First of all, my friends always tease me because I always find something that triggers the question of how life would have been hundreds of years ago. Also, my childhood summers were spent on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, on the tip of Long Island. I love the cold waves, the rugged dunes, the cold days in front of a lit fireplace, the windmills. Roman has grown so much, I hope you are all having a wonderful time. The consistency of the cornmeal is amazing, I am sure the desserts you made were too.

  8. SO beautiful! We too spent our summers as a children on the Atlantic Ocean! My great grandparents built a small house in Avalon NJ and we're fortunate as an extended family to have been able to hold onto it! I remember those same days of staying in the ocean until we were shriveled up like prunes! Again Nicole, your writing, food and photos over the top!!!

  9. The photo of the grist mill is absolutely perfect! I would give anything to sit in the shade of those trees and just absorb the scene. Never been to New England and your pictures make me want to book a vacation NOW :) The cookies and pudding looks delightful, too! Can't wait to try these!

  10. beautiful pictures and sweets
    I haven't had cornmeal cookies before

  11. Absolutely beautiful photographs.

    Cornmeal cookies are new to me too. Will have to keep them in mind to try out.

  12. Your Indian pudding looks scrumptious, especially with that scoop of ice cream. I like my hot water to arrive instantly, but I do still cream my butter and sugar together by hand. And the beach, it is still a magical place for me.

  13. I love this post, so nostalgic and thoughtful. I've never been to Cape Cod, but have heard wonderful things about it. Now when I go, I'll need to track down some delicious cornmeal to bring back to the Pacific Northwest.

  14. I've never been to Cape Cod but your photos tempt. Beautiful! And oooh have long wanted to try making Indian Pudding and now I have a recipe! Thanks!


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