Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Minute Pudding

In the late 1940s and '50s, once a year for Sunday lunch my dad would make a family recipe called minute pudding. He always invited his family, especially his still malleable daughters, to share it with him. 

Minute pudding is not a delicate dessert, as you might imagine of a recipe called "pudding." It's a main course made from flour, milk, baking powder, and salt—flavored with nutmeg. The gooey dough looks something like dumpling dough, and after it cooks it still looks like a big, doughy lump. We would sprinkle sugar on it and pour milk over it. It was like eating doughy, flavorless bread dunked in milk. It was awful!

“Can you this being your entire food for the day?” Dad would ask us. We'd grimace. "I'll bet you'd think it pretty darn good on an empty stomach, though,” he'd continue, then add something like “M-m-m-m . . .  there’s nothing quite like minute pudding.” 

He was right; there is nothing like it in any recipe book I’ve ever seen. It was a strictly homemade concoction invented out of desperation by my great-grandmother, Anne French Johnson.

Minute Pudding  (recipe copied in my hand more than forty years ago)

Bring to a boil 1 pint of milk
Add Salt and nutmeg to taste
Sift flour (there is no quantity, but start with 1 cup) with ¼ tsp. baking powder

Keep adding flour to the milk until thick. 
Turn into a bowl and bake for 20 minutes in a slow (300 degrees) oven.
In my handwriting I added,Eat with reverence.”

As we ate our minute pudding on those Sundays, Dad would narrate stories he had heard as a child from his father who grew up in rural Iowa and left home to 'come out West' as soon as he completed eighth grade. 
Inside my great-grandfather's saddlebag was
the 'good book'--the only tool of the trade
itinerant preacher needed in
the mid-nineteenth century.

Apparently there were a lot of times in my grandfather's childhood when he didn't have enough to eat. Grandfather died when I was three (he was born in 1860), so I never had a chance to talk to him about his early years myself. But my father filled us in on tidbits, as we were ready for them.

We learned that sometimes grandfather and his two sisters suffered from much deprivation in their isolated cabin in rural Iowa, especially if hunting was poor and someone didn’t shoot a turkey or some other wild animal for them to eat. "They went to bed hungry many nights, and if it hadn't been for minute pudding, they might have starved to death.”

This is my great-grandfather's hide-
bound Bible published in 1840--
well worn and well used.
Their father, my great-grandfather, was Rev. Allan Wesley Johnson, an itinerant Methodist minister born in 1819. He traveled from town to town on horseback throughout much of Iowa and Minnesota. His work kept him away from home for long spells, and clearly the remuneration was little more than the hospitality of the people he ministered to. He was also an alcoholic (although my father’s word was 'drunkard,' no doubt used by my grandfather, too, when talking about his childhood deprivation). That meant when the Reverend Johnson was home, he was frequently unable to provide for his family.

I was probably thirteen when I realized my dad actually didn't love minute pudding, despite the "m-m-m-m" that inevitably accompanied its consumption. Instead,Dad was repeating a personal ritual that he had learned from his own father, a ritual created to never forget how blessed it is to have enough food to eat.

As I read about the increasing poverty rate in our country, I think about this story . . . this recipe. I haven't made minute pudding but once in my adult life, but just thinking about it makes me feel so blessed.

1 comment:

Lucy Hart said...

Your father was such a special man. I can just see a twinkle in his eye while telling these stories year after year over a big bowl of minute pudding. Thanks for writing this.