Technically, I suppose we shouldn't call this Indian pudding. There aren't many things that can be kindly called that anymore, unless of course they've actually come from the east. But somehow, corn and molasses don't sound nearly so comforting as Native American pudding, and so I think we'll stick with the old-fashioned name, at least for now.
My mother has always had a soft spot for the dish. We used to go down to a clam shack along the rocks where I grew up in Maine on summer nights to feast on lobster rolls and steamers. Henry and Marty, the impromptu cooks, always beamed out of the kitchen at the end of the meal, fussing over my sister and me and pushing a paper basket of pudding onto the table.
It was rich, thick, and brown; molasses seeping through the paper and corn rough on our tongues. The pudding came topped with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream, and it was hot, too hot. We almost always burned our mouths with that first bite, cooling off quickly with the cold cream and digging in too soon for another.
I've been meaning to recreate it for a while, now, but it's quite a project for the average day. First you have to scald and stir, wiping up sticky molasses and taking care with the milk, and then there's the oven time—two hours, at least. But when you have a day, it's well worth the work.
It doesn't involve so much as you imagine, beyond the time and the mess. There will be a shopping trip to pay—I used up a quart of milk, nearly all of the molasses, and a good bit of cornmeal in the process—and probably an oven to clean. I despaired a bit at the beginning, as the pudding bubbled and burped, belching molasses onto the oven ceiling, but with one bite I was able to let even that offense go.
It was worth it, you see. The transformation of thin liquid and grain into a thick, sweet porridge is so startling, so delightful, that no scrubbing will deter me again. I can only hope you agree.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease a large, heavy bottomed pot or baking dish. Scald 3 cups milk in a saucepan. Add 5-8 tablespoons cornmeal, and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup molasses, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1 egg, beaten. Stir well, until butter melts. Pour into greased dish and bake 30 minutes. Pour 1 cup cold milk over pudding and turn oven down to 250. Cook 2 hours, or until top is brown and crisp. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.