This southern recipe is basically a sweet rice pudding made with eggs, butter, milk and sugar. Recipes for rice puddings are very old, and even the earliest records of civilization depict grain custards such as this. Rice was thought to have medicinal qualities and through the mid-20th century, it was often given to the sick and infirm. The Byzantine physician Anthimus even gave a recipe for it in his “On the Observance of Food” (530 A.D.) called oriza, which used goat milk and no sweetener.
As I mentioned in the recipe post for Hardtack, a naval blockade from the north prevented a great number of foods from being imported to the south, including wheat. Cooks needed to adapt many recipes to what was available, and starchy rice and potatoes were popular additions to breads and cakes as flour substitutes (rice being a popular crop in the marshy areas of Louisiana and South Carolina).
In fact, this recipe comes from a cookbook from the period that offers many such suggestions to help ease the discomfort of food shortages. The Confederate Receipt Book: A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times was printed in 1863 in Richmond, Virginia on polka-dot wallpaper, since regular paper was in short supply. Only five copies of the cookbook are known to have survived, but it has been reprinted many times since then. Many of the recipes from this and other cookbooks like it would re-emerge during the Great Depression.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Custards generally benefit from using whole milk.
If you don’t have leftover cooked rice, boil about 1/2 a cup of uncooked white rice with 1 cup of water in a covered pot until the water is absorbed, which takes about 15-20 minutes.
Like making mayonaise, it helps to have all of your ingredients at room temperature. Take your eggs, milk and butter out of the fridge at least an hour prior to starting the recipe.
This is not really a recipe that stores well. It is meant to be cooked prior to serving, and eaten when it cools to room temperature.
At first, I was a bit worried that this pudding would be bland and eggy without the use of flavorings like vanilla or chocolate, but it had a sweet taste to it that didn’t need it – though it could be added if you wanted.
There are many who are put-off by the texture of rice pudding – the custard itself is smooth, but then you hit these rice grains. If it doesn’t bother you, then don’t be afraid of making rice puddings from scratch. Custards are one of those magic recipes like souffles that are hyped up to be much more difficult than they actually are. The two main things to remember is to keep stirring the custard and keep it on medium-low heat so that it doesn’t burn or curdle.
At a time of incredible hardship for much of the south, this would have been a sweet and filling treat to soothe the stomach. By the end of the war, however, sugar, eggs and butter were scarce and such a recipe would not likely have been possible except in the wealthiest of homes.
You’ll notice the recipe itself is rather brief. It was assumed the average cook knew the basics of making a custard. I’ve fleshed it out a bit in the adaptation below, but have stuck to the original recipe and proportions.
From Confederate Receipt Book: A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times, Richmond, VA: West & Johnson, 1863.
“Take one cup of soft boiled rice, a pint of milk, a cup of sugar, three eggs, and piece of butter the size of an egg. Serve with sauce.”
3 small eggs or two large eggs
2 cups of milk
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, soft
1 cup of cooked rice (see note above)
Beat the eggs with the milk, sugar and butter using a whisk. Stir in cooked rice, making sure the rice grains are un-clumped. Heat mixture in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently with whisk. Mixture will thicken after about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Yields four servings.
A caramel sauce is traditional, and can be made by heating 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and stirring in 1/2 cup of sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. The sugar will caramelize and become pourable. Alternatively, towards the end of the war when sugar was scarce, molasses would likely have been poured over the top.