Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sago Custard Infused with Nutmeg

Notice the Round "Pearls" of
Starchy Sago in the Custard

Sago Cream

a tea cup of Sago, Boiled to a jelly, in water, add a quart of rich milk, when it boils, put in the yelks of eight eggs well-beaten, sweeten to your taste, and add a little nutmeg.

About Sago
Sago is an almost pure starch that comes from the centers of the stems of many different types of tropical palm trees, especially Metroxylon sago. This palm is found in the tropical lowland forests and freshwater swamps of Southeast Asia and New Guniea. 

Sago is used as a thickener and is very similar to tapioca or arrowroot. Sago was exported to the West beginning in the early 18th century in the form of small pearls or balls (also similar to tapioca). It was very popular in British and American cooking well into the 19th century but has dropped off in popularity since then, presumably for its odd texture.

Sago in American Recipes
In addition to being used as a thickening agent in custards/puddings, sago was widely used in 19th century American recipes in many other types of dishes. Sago was used in many types of soups including just plain sago soup, veal and sago soup, wine soups, and fruit soups, especially cherry soup. It is also an ingredient in jellies such as cranberry and sago jelly. I also found it was used to make bread and as a thickener for potato puree.

Historic American Sago Recipes

1839, Sarah J. Hale, The Good Housekeeper (Boston)

1886, Miss Corson's Practical American Cookery (New York)
1870, Jane C. Croly, Jennie June's American Cookery Book (New York)

1889, Aunt Babette's Cook Book (Ohio)

1893, Favorite Dishes by Carrie Shuman (Chicago)

About the Recipe
This is one of those recipes in this manuscript that really does not yield anything remotely edible when prepared as written. Also, I was confused by the name "cream" because I could not find a contemporary American recipe for a sago cream though there were lots for puddings (custards), so I decided that this recipe was really meant to be a custard (though possibly a very thin one). To make this edible, I found I needed to use whole eggs as well as egg yolks to make it richer, and I needed to bake it to get it to set properly. 

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Sago Cream

Serves 6


  • 1/2 Cup Sago Pearls
  • 2 Cups Whole Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Grated Nutmeg
  • 3 Large Eggs

  1. Heat oven to 300º F. Place eight 4-ounce ramekins in a large casserole dish (you will probably need two casserole dishes).
  2. Rinse the sago pearls with cold water and drain. 
  3. Add the sago and the milk to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook on medium-low until the sago softens. Remove from the heat.
  4. Add the sugar and nutmeg and whisk until it dissolves. 
  5. Place the eggs in a medium mixing bowl and whisk together. 
  6. Temper the Eggs: Add about 1 cup of the hot mixture in small increments to the eggs in the mixing bowl and whisk together. Then, add the warmed eggs to the milk in the saucepan, whisk together.
  7. Then, add the nutmeg and whisk together. 
  8. Pour the sago custard into the ramekins that are sitting in the casserole dishes.
  9. Pour enough boiling water into the casserole dishes so that it reaches about half-way up the height of the ramekins. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the custard is set and firm.
  10. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight until completely cold. 

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