To make a rice pudding

  • 1/2 a cup of rice
  • 4 cups of milk
  • 1/3 cup of unsalted butter
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup coarse ground sugar
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 tsp rose water
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/3 cup egg whites
  • 1/3 cup currants or raisins

Preheat your oven to 350*.

In a large saucepan cook your rice with your cinnamon stick and milk. This recipe calls for a frequent stirring, so your rice will cook more like a risotto than traditional stovetop steamed rice. Once the rice is cooked, stir in the butter, sugar and spices.

Beat together your egg and egg white mixture then mix it into your seasoned rice. Fold in your currants and then pour the entire mixture into a lined pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is a light golden brown.

The 18th century rice pudding, unlike the bread pudding, was not made from readily available ingredients. The very existence of and popularity of the rice pudding reveals the unspoken colonial connection to the everyday function of the eighteenth-century kitchen. Rice puddings are just as common as bread puddings and oatmeal puddings in eighteenth-century cookery books. Authors frequently include more than once recipe for a rice pudding, which speaks to their popularity and their versatility. Yet what is truly remarkable about a rice pudding is the domestication of the rice that is used to make it. The domestication of the rice pudding required not only the domestication of an entire cooking system that made puddings with distinct flavors possible, but also the domestication of British imperial trade routes that made rice a common enough import to be unremarkable.

To really understand the extent to which the colonial origins of rice had been domesticated one needs to recognize that rice, much like ginger and sugar, relied upon a stable system of trade. Rice was one of the major exported crops in seventeenth-century America, adding approximately one million pounds to the British economy each year.[1] Rice became a vital part of the British economy and empire. It was sent from Georgia and South Carolina to Great Britain and was then frequently then sold to the Continent and India.[2] Rice was also inextricably linked to the slave industry. Although at the start of the eighteenth century Caribbean slaves grew rice and other agricultural cash crops in the colonies, the demand for rice led plantation owners to seek slaves from rice-growing regions of Africa, appropriating their knowledge, technology and culture of rice production.[3] The everyday use of rice, therefore, was founded upon a flourishing system of colonial cultural appropriation, slavery, and trade. An eighteenth-century rice pudding not only represented the domestication of boiling technologies and a working understanding of heat, but it also epitomized the economic and political power of the British Empire. Rice pudding could only become standard fare for the middling and upper ranked families of eighteenth-century England because the colonial rice industry was flourishing.

Rice puddings also reveal some expert understanding of how different ingredients reacted with one another and required different cooking times. The lauded ability for a housewife to ‘ingeniously’ substitute between ingredients in a recipe and those readily available was not just a matter of taste, it required a technical understanding of the function of each ingredient and how it reacted to the others. Rice, with its noticeably high absorption rate differed significantly from bread when used as filler for a pudding. When planning for household efficiency, the high absorbency of rice also allowed for the cook to use fewer eggs. When baked or boiled, the absorbent property of rice allowed it to bind the other ingredients, a role that eggs also played in puddings. Glasse’s recipes for a variety of rice puddings (she has a total of nine different rice puddings) reveal the advantageous properties of rice. Glasse explains that a rice pudding needed to be tied loosely in a cloth because the rice needs “a great deal of room to swell.”[4] Her intention to make cooking ‘plain and easy’ for inexperienced housewives and cooks perhaps helps to explain why she, of all the cookery book authors, goes so far as to mention the properties of rice. These properties, learned through observation and experience, would have become second nature to any cook regularly working with imported rice. Their inclusion in Glasse’s book suggests that they were important and new enough to warrant their observation for mid-eighteenth-century culinary practitioners who may not have obtained such experience.

The absorptive quality of rice made it uniquely suited to puddings because it could absorb flavor and maintain its shape once cooked. Rice puddings remain the only puddings that both Ellis and Glasse note do not necessarily need eggs. For a baked rice pudding, Glasse explains that a rice pudding made from pre-boiled rice cooked in milk and then baked “will be good without” the addition of eggs.[5] It is worth noting that her “cheap rice pudding” uses no eggs at all. Ellis also explains that a boiled rice pudding made without eggs serves as a suitable “pudding in haste” when no milk or eggs can be obtained.[6] These cheaper or hastier puddings were essentially sweetened over-cooked rice with currants or raisins. Yet they constituted puddings due to their moldable form and the contained bowls or cloths they were baked or boiled in. More importantly, these rice puddings allowed for cooks to adapt puddings to the immediate financial or time restraints of their kitchens. The very real possibility that eggs or milk might not be readily available, or the need to make a sweetened side dish once the main course was already cooking that could be boiled or baked depending on what cookware was available made these rice puddings incredibly versatile.

Rice puddings and bread puddings help to explain why puddings were so popular during the eighteen-century, and why they became a staple part of British cuisine. The simplicity of a boiled or baked pudding, and its versatility in regard to kitchen technologies required to make it, made the pudding the perfect addition to meals that could be worked to around the available cookware. While puddings certainly took two hours to cook, compared to the four-hour main dishes and the fact that they could be placed in a heating or cooling oven they were relatively easy to prepare. Bread and rice puddings, as everyday staples also epitomized cultural values held within eighteenth-century society. The bread pudding, intended to make use of stale bread, represented the culinary ideals of efficiency, economy and transformation of taste and appearance. The rice pudding also could represent culinary economy and adaptability since it could be made without access to fresh dairy products. Yet the rice pudding, more importantly, represented the British colonial empire within domestic cuisine. The imported rice, reliant entirely upon slave production and trade ventures, could be bought both as a whole grain and a flour and was available to households of a wide-ranging rank. Just as regular consumption of tea and sugar cemented the kitchen’s colonial ties and dependency to slavery, the everyday consumption of rice puddings brought the Empire’s politics and interests into the kitchen.

[1] Volo, James and Dorothy Volo, Family Life in 17th– and 18th-Century America (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006), 121.

[2] Cumo, Christopher, Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants: From Acacia to Zinnia(ABC-CLIO, 2013), 887.

[3] Cumo, Christopher, Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants: From Acacia to Zinnia(ABC-CLIO, 2013), 887.

[4] Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 218.

[5] Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 211

[6] Ellis, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, 34.


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