Cornmeal Pudding Warms the Soul

Jamaicans adore pudding.  Our taste for this rich, sweet, baked treat is a part of our history as a British colony. The British claim pudding as a part of their culinary heritage and with time, this affectation for the sweet treat has become intertwined in the food lore of all its commonwealth dependents.  As food history often relates, climate, geography, culture, availability of key ingredients and the resourcefulness of local cooks have taken these recipes that travelled aboard British ships and personalized them. We love pudding because of the British; but our taste hungers for creamy cornmeal pudding with cinnamon and coconut milk or sweet potato pudding cooked in a banana leaf (also called Duckunoo or Blue Drawers).

My grandmother makes the best cornmeal pudding. Her pudding was the highlight of every visit. For years I’ve tried to duplicate her recipe, but could never get the texture right. I’ve begged and pleaded but her lips were sealed and the recipe remained secret.  We no longer visit as often as we used to, but even time cannot erase the memories of many family meal shared. I’ve not tasted her cornmeal pudding in years and in a moment of nostalgia decided to call her and ask for the recipe. Grandma’s mellowed with age and her kitchen has acquired a slightly dust patina as she uses it less and less. She was happy to hear my voice over the phone and despite the distance I felt as if I was right beside her.

 Cornmeal Pudding

2 tins coconut milk (1 tin is 14 oz.)

10 oz. water

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

¾ cup fine cornmeal

1 cup raisin

1 tbsp. butter or margarine

Method

1.       Grease an 8×10 baking tin with margarine or butter and set aside

2.       Mix the coconut milk, water, sugar, vanilla, salt and cinnamon together. Reserve 4 oz. of liquid to make the custard.

3.       Add the cornmeal to liquid until completely dissolved

4.       Pour this mixture into a pot and cook on stove until thick. It takes about 10 to 12 minutes on medium heat. Pay attention; stir the mixture often to prevent lumps. Meanwhile set the oven to 350F. The mixture when done should have the consistency similar to chocolate pudding. 

5.       Stir in the raisins and pour mixture into baking tin.

6.       Bake for 1 hour until top is golden brown, remove from the oven and pour the remaining 4 ozs of liquid on top. This liquid will create the soft custard, a must have for cornmeal pudding aficionados. Put the baking tin back in the oven for another 30 minutes until the top sets and is golden brown.

7.       Total cooking time 90 minutes

8.       When done, the pudding will be extremely soft similar to jello. Let cool fully in the fridge overnight to set.  Cornmeal pudding is best when cut, the next day.

I baked my cornmeal pudding the night before and left in the refrigerator to cool and set. Today I cut my first slice and even though delicious, something’s missing. In reflection, I think I’ll never be able to get this recipe to taste like grandma’s.  I’m sure the ingredients are the same and I made sure to follow her instructions to the letter, but as I taste another forkful – still delicious- still not as I remembered it. I’ve decided to post this recipe with its minor flaws because as I sit and look at my own cornmeal pudding, I realize that it would be impossible to duplicate her mustard colored stove or the clear window panes that let in the sea breeze. It’s not quite right because she didn’t make it and in my mind, it will never be.

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