Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Baked Rice Pudding

Baked Rice Pudding

The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations.

Plain Rice Pudding
Put into a very deep pan half a pound of Rice, washed & picked, two oz’s. of Butter, 4 oz. of sugar, a few allspice pounded, & a little cinnamon, & 2 quarts milk. bake in a slow oven. Note: Eggs in rice pudding, if made of whole rice, causes the milk to turn to whey, if not boiled first & then mixed cool.

About Rice
This recipe calls for Asian rice (Oryza sativa) as opposed to African rice (Oryza glaberrima). Oryza sativa is native to Southern and Eastern Asia; it most likely originated in India and then through natural forces (wind, carried by birds, etc) made its way to Southern China. Cultivation of African rice (Oryza glabberima) began around 1500 BCE in West Africa; however, Asian rice was introduced into West Africa in the 16th century and actually replaced African rice because it had a larger yield. Therefore, Asian rice is what is meant when referring to rice in English. The two most common types are the short-grained sticky rice and the long-grained fluffy type also known as Carolina rice.

Through trade and other international contacts, rice made its way from Asia to the Middle East (it was in Mesopotamia and Persia by the 5th century BCE). By the first century A.D., rice had made its way to Greece, and then over time it scattered throughout the rest of Europe. 

British recipes with rice really started to make a presence by the 17th century and became very popular in the 18th century. This is an 18th century British recipe using rice called To Make a Poloe. The word poloe most likely refers to pilaf, meaning a rice dish cooked in a broth with spices. It is from Eliza Smith's 1739 cookery book The Compleat Housewife (London):

Interestingly, a version of E. Smith's The Compleat Housewife was printed in America at Williamsbug in 1742. It was the first cookbook printed in America and the recipes were vetted and edited to appeal American cooks; this recipe was included in that re-print therefore Americans were definitely fans of rice. On that note, now let's look at how rice made its way to the shores America.

Rice Crosses the Atlantic
Eventually, rice made its way across the Atlantic, first to South America in the 16th century and then to North America in the 17th century. 

  • Rice was brought to South America in the early sixteenth-century by the Spanish and Portuguese. While several European imported food items made their way into the diet of South Americans and Central Americans, the introduction of rice most radically altered the diet. For example, the staple diet among these American civilizations was the Three Sisters--corn, beans, and squash; European contact changed this traditional trio to corn, beans, and rice. 
  • Rice was first cultivated in North America in Virginia by 1647. However, tobacco supplanted rice as the main cash crop in Virginia and it was South Carolina that took up the reigns as the leading producer of rice in colonial North America. A ship from Madagascar was stranded on a beach in South Carolina, and the local colonists came to the aid of the captain and helped make the boat sound enough to continue on its journey. In gratitude, the captain gave the South Carolinians several sacks of rice. The colonists planted the rice and yielded a crop that was better than that which could be raised in the rice’s country of origin.

Rice in South Carolina
The freshwater tidal swamps of South Carolina were a perfect location for growing rice. Because rice production is very labor-intensive, enslaved workers were used. Ensalved workers with West African origins also had experience working with rice in their homeland and no doubt contributed this knowledge to make the cultivation of rice in South Carolina a success.  The enslaved workers prepared the fields, built the necessary canals and dikes, planted the crops, flooded and drained the fields, and harvested, winnowed, and polished the rice.

Rice certainly permeated the diet of the people of South Carolina and beyond as it was exported to other colonies. Because the British did not have a long history of using rice in recipes, they tended to use it in recipes that were familiar to them (porridges, gruels, breads, and puddings). Enslaved workers who lived in the rice-growing areas of South Carolina had prior knowledge of cooking with rice and likely exerted their influence over the ways in which rice was made into recipes.

Recipes with rice from early South Carolinians made their way into cookbooks such as The Receipt Book of Harriott Pinckney Horry (1770) and Sarah Rutlegde in The Carolina Housewife (1847). In these collections there are recipes for rice bread, rice milk, rice journeycakes, rice and hominy breads, potato and rice bread, rice waffles, rice muffins, rice soup, Hopping John (a rice, bacon, and peas pottage most likely with African roots),  and rice pie. In addition, Rutledge gives specific instructions for how to wash rice, remove any gravel from it, and boil it. Other typical American rice-rich recipes of the 18th and 19th centuries include ones for rice cups (apparently rice and milk meringue), rice flour puffs (apparently a version of deep-fried rice-based pâte à choux, or pasty dough made by combining eggs in a flour base), various rice puddings and custards, and rice cakes.

Rice in Maryland
Maryland was definitley importing rice as early as the 18th century; therefore, Mrs. Morris would have had easy access to it and she certainly could afford to purchase it. Here is an advertisement for it from the 3 July 1760 edition of the Maryland Gazette:

Here is an advertisement for rice being imported into Baltimore from the 25 October 1804 edition of Baltimore's newspaper called the American and Commercial Daily Advertiser:

Lots of recipes for rice exist in 19th century cookbooks attributed to white Marylanders such as Mrs. B.C. Howard and Eliza Ellicott Lea. For example, these cookbooks contain numerous recipes for rice, such as:

  • Rice, To be boiled as a vegetable
  • Chicken and Rice
  • Rice Cakes
  • Rice Muffins
  • Rice Waffles
  • Rice Breads
  • Rice Milk Blancmange
  • Rice Puddings
  • Rice Fritters
  • Rice Flummery

However, being that rice was an import and possibly costly, it is doubtful that large numbers of enslaved Afro-Marylanders received rice in their rations.  According to food historian, Michael Twitty, typical rations for the enslaved in Maryland included unbolted corn, salt, salted and smoked fish, salt pork, fish, buttermilk, fruit, cider, some vegetables such as cabbages, turnips, field peas, and sweet potatoes, hominy, black-strap molasses, an sometimes a Sunday chicken. Twitty goes on to say that "these foods often accounted for more than half to almost all of an enslaved person's caloric intake." Nutritious rice was noticeably absent from this list of foods. 

About the Recipe

This is one of Morris's recipes that makes me really wish I could text the her to ask her to clarify what she means. But since she lived in the 19th century this is just not possible! I had many problems with this recipe and tested it several times. First, she mentions eggs but doesn't say how many to use. Second, she doesn't say to cook the rice beforehand, which is typical with baked rice pudding recipes. Finally, she lists two quarts of milk which, at first glance, seemed like way too much. Needless to say, I had to make some major adjustments to this recipe and tested it many times to get it right. I used three different amounts of milk and found out that, indeed, two quarts is actually the right amount, two eggs are fine, and the rice does need to be pre-cooked!

Also, note that this is a baked rice pudding so it will not be a custard in the same way as a traditional one that is cooked on the stove-top. It has a denser texture but is very good in its own way. If you heat it, it will be creamier than at room temperature or cold.

Rice Pudding: Modern Recipe Adaptation


  • 2 1/4 Cups Water
  • 1 1/4 Cups White Rice
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 Quarts (8 Cups) Very Cold Milk
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Allspice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

  1. Boil the water and then add the rice. Lower the heat, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Drain, if necessary, and set aside.
  2. Heat the oven to 350º F. Grease a large (10" x 15") baking pan and  place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, add the rice and butter and mix until the butter melts. Then, add the the milk, sugar, egg, and spices. Mix together.
  4. Pour the pudding mixture into the prepared casserole dish.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes.
  6. Allow the pudding to cool; it was have a smooth and creamy consistency.

  • Civitello, Linda. Cuisine and Culture, A History of Food and People (USA, 2004)
  • Davidson, Alan. The Penguin Companion to Food (New York, 2002)
  • Smith, Andrew F. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. A History of Food (Blackwell Publishing, 2005)
  • Twitty, Michael. Fighting Old Nep: The Foodways of Enslaved Afro-Marylanders, 1634-1864.

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