July 15, 2011
Welcome back to the kitchen. It’s time to take another break out of our busy lives and focus on
some simple pleasures. Here on cooking local I like to explore all sorts of recipes, from exotic food traditions
to elegant twists on classics, to involved, multi-course feasts. But today I want to share with you a truly simple
food memory that is so deeply embedded in my childhood comfort food catalogue; it brings a wave of warm and
fuzzies just thinking about it.
talking about grape nuts pudding. Sounds weird, right? At least to those of you who have never heard of or tried
this dessert, it certainly doesn’t sound like anything to get excited about. Grape nuts are a breakfast
cereal that dates back to before the turn of the 20th century. It is very crunchy, so it holds up well in the
pudding to give it some texture.
I’m telling you, this dessert couldn’t be simpler, and couldn’t be more delicious. It is
basically in the baked custard, bread or rice pudding set. Fresh ground nutmeg and real vanilla highlight the
natural malty sweetness of the roasted barley in the Grape Nuts cereal.
/> I’m led to believe this is a
traditional, old timey New England dessert, so I won’t be surprised if many of you haven’t heard of
it. I was reminded of the flavors and texture when a coworker brought in some delicious French toast casserole
this week. I suppose the mouth feel is not for everyone, but if you like flan you will like this.
/> And allow me to digress for just a moment and
tell you why I really love grape nuts pudding. You see, I grew up I a small town in Western Massachusetts. For
birthdays and special occasions we would get to go to the Four Leaf Clover restaurant. Now, this spot was and is
no fancy digs. But with big, dark booths and a jukebox at every table, the Four Leaf Clover will forever hold a
special spot I my heart, and no I’m not referring to future clogged arteries.
There’s just something about these last few classic American diners and independent family restaurants. And
as a kid, the special treat for your birthday was you got that cold silver dish of grape nuts pudding with whipped
cream and a candle on top. Creamy, velvety, and with some chewy texture from the cereal. I remember the sound of
my spoon scraping the dish as I strived to get every last molecule of pudding. But why is this stuff so delicious?
Well, you’ll just have to try it for yourself to find out what I mean.
ingredients here are super simple. For Grape Nuts Pudding we’ll need:
quart milk, scalded
• 1 cup Grape-Nuts cereal
• 4 large
• scant 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon vanilla
/>• Pinch of salt
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (approx.)
/>• Whole nutmeg
Heat oven to 350°. Put on
the milk to scald. This basically means to bring it up just shy of boiling, when little bubbles start to form. In
the olden days, you would scald milk to kill off bacteria. But pasteurizing does that for us now. Some articles
I’ve seen say scalding milk breaks down proteins and aids in getting the right texture. But most importantly
I think, we are heating up the milk so it will more quickly soften the super-crunchy grape nuts cereal.
medium-size bowl, pour scalded milk over Grape-Nuts and let sit 5 minutes. In a second medium-size bowl, beat the
eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt. The classic recipe I came across calls for a scant half cup of sugar only, meaning
you don’t have to overdo it. You can also go pretty light on the salt. And when it comes to vanilla, I know
it seems expensive, but it is only worth dealing with the real deal. Don’t go for artificial extracts.
/>Add the egg mixture to the milk and Grape-Nuts and stir well, making sure the eggs, sugar and vanilla are all
mixed in. Pour into a buttered 2-quart casserole dish. Generously grate nutmeg over the top. It is totally worth
buying whole nutmeg and using a micro plane grater. The taste of fresh ground spices just generally knocks the pre
ground stuff out of the water. Some recipes call for cinnamon as well, which I like, but it can sort of over power
this simple dessert.
Place the casserole dish into a deep roasting pan. Place these pans in the oven
and pour water into the roasting pan, enough to reach at least halfway up the side of the casserole. This is
called a water bath, and it will keep the pudding moist and the temperature constant while it is in the oven. By
the way, if you have little individual baking cups, those would be perfect to use here for individual servings.
Bake 45 to 60 minutes, until the pudding is almost set in the center (very slight jiggle). Set the grape nuts
putting aside to cool and set for at least 10 minutes.
Now, of course it is very tempting to eat your dessert
as soon as it is ready. But for me to truly relive my Four Leaf Clover grape nuts pudding memories, the pudding
needs to be eaten cold. In any case, it will taste even better after it has sat in the fridge overnight.
/>Before serving let’s whip up a bowl of fresh whipped cream with just a touch of vanilla and maple syrup.
Let’s also slice up some fresh strawberries and rinse off some blueberries. These fresh, seasonal additions
will add a nice touch to our classic New England pudding.
What are your favorite childhood foods that still
elicit a Pavlovian response in you today? Was there a special restaurant you wish you could go back to? It’s
amazing how powerfully recipes like these can connect us with our past. Treasure each dish and share them with
others, and you will keep that link to happy times. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put a few
more quarters into the juke box, finish off my dinner, and get ready for that Four Leaf Clover grape nuts pudding.
I’d love to hear some of your recipe ideas. Send me any question or comments to