My Citizens, today is a dark day for the New England-based members of TFD Nation and I mourn with them. Today, one of the oldest restaurants in America closed its doors forever – the bastion of Faneuil Hall, Durgin-Park!
As noted two recipes ago in my posting of the famed Durgin-Park baked beans, there is a ludicrous amount of gastronomic history that is now lost forever with the restaurant’s closing. Still, at least their 2 most famed recipes live on here at TFD, including this one for their justly-renowned version of Indian pudding!
As noted in an article from The NY Times:
Indian pudding was a compromise. A mass of cornmeal, milk and molasses, baked for hours, it was born of the Puritans’ nostalgia for British hasty pudding and their adaptation to the ground-corn porridges of their Native American neighbors. Originally served as a first course, it grew sweeter (but not too sweet; Puritanism runs deep) and migrated to the end of supper.
For a proper historical re-enactment of the dish, you need meal stone-ground from Rhode Island whitecap flint corn, a hard, tough-to-crack corn, less sweet but more buttery than hybrid strains. One of the oldest incarnations of the plant, it was cultivated by the local Narragansett and saved from extinction by a few equally flinty Rhode Island farmers.
As further elucidated on Slow Food USA:
White Cap Flint Corn is a quick growing crop, averaging 110 days to ripen, and the traditional yield ranging from 50 to 60 bushels per acre. Originally a landrace flint corn cultivated by the Narragansett Indians, White Cap Flint was adopted during the 17th century by Rhode Island settlers for milling and for fodder.
In the early 19th century much of Rhode Island corn was processed by the local slave population. In the early 20th century improved strains of White Cap corn were developed in Rhode Island by the staff of the Rhode Island Experimental Station.
The 1920s marked a turning point for New England corn when the Connecticut Agricultural Station published a report in 1924, evaluating 42 different varieties of flint corn. Although it was not the intent, this report was the obituary for flint corn. In fact, one of the primary authors, geneticist D.F. Jones, was one of the engineers behind the F-1 Hybrid Corn Belt Dents that dominates modern corn production.
White Cap Flint was the invariable ingredient of the quintessential Rhode Island dish, the Jonny Cake. A dish native to the Narragansett Indians, the Jonny Cake was made from milled corn meal and was often eaten with butter and/or maple syrup.
Rhode Island White Cap Flint has a large local band of followers who are intent on keeping up levels of production and consumption. As an improved landrace corn that does not thrive under conventional agricultural regimens, Rhode Island White Cap has been excluded from mass cultivation.
Its survival has depended on the devoted work of isolated individuals who view White Cap Flint as a historic grain of the foremost importance and a treasure worth any amount of labor or inconvenience to preserve. It has been kept on the landscape by small plot farming and the work of seedsmen. The demand for White Cap Flint products is very local, and therefore at risk. The Jonny Cake festival in Rhode Island was canceled in 2014 after 40 years.
There has been a devoted band of farmers, millers, and citizens who have defied the dictates of agronomists that they should grow high yield dent corn for nearly a century because they revered the taste that the Natives of the region had taught them. We should do everything in our power to ensure this gift from pre-colonial times survives through the 21st century.
This recipe is a deserved classic, Citizens – go the authentic route and buy the right corn here. My adaptation of their recipe is to use the proper cornmeal, duck eggs (I find them to be far richer and superior to chicken eggs in this recipe) and also garnish it with homemade vanilla gelato instead of the cheap ice cream they used to use. If you’re so inclined and of a scientific and methodical bent, make your own vanilla gelato (far better than the cheap vanilla ice cream served at Durgin-Park) from the spectacular and hardcore recipe here.
An excellent and certainly easier substitution is to use Haagen Dazs vanilla bean ice cream, which is the best commercial vanilla ice cream you can easily get. Don’t use the regular vanilla, be sure it’s the vanilla BEAN version – it’s far superior.
My Citizens, whilst we may mourn the passing of Durgin-Park, let us also celebrate its centuries-long impact on American cuisine!
Battle on – The Generalissimo