Editor's Note: You may know Alexandra Penfold as Brownie from the popular blog Blondie and Brownie. She'll be stopping by weekly, digging up long-lost classic desserts and regional favorites.
I come from a long line of New Englanders. Hearty folk who've weathered close to three centuries of blustery Maine winters. They're no fuss and no nonsense. And they like Grape-Nuts...for dessert. If that sounds a bit austere to you, don't feel sorry for them, Grape-Nuts Pudding is wicked simple to make and as comforting as any dessert you might find on your Nana's table, if your Nana was from Down East.
Grape-Nuts was one of the first commercially available ready-to-eat cold cereals when it was introduced by C.W. Post in 1897. Post was a pioneer of many now common food marketing techniques including mass advertising with pretty bold claims like, "Ten days trial of this proper food in place of improper food will show in steady, stronger nerves, sharper brain and the power to 'go' longer and further and accomplish more." I suppose claims like those appealed to the ascetic Yankee sensibility.
Outside of Maine, there aren't too many places where you'll find Grape-Nuts Pudding, but fortunately, making it at home requires just a few ingredients, most of which may already be in your pantry. During baking the Grape-Nuts sink to the bottom of the dish, leaving a lightly spiced, eggy custard on top and a soft, somewhat spongey "crust" on the bottom. Texturally the Grape-Nuts layer reminds me a bit of Indian Pudding, another traditional New England dish made from cornmeal, milk, spices and molasses. But while Indian Pudding is baked for hours, Grape-Nuts pudding takes a fraction of the time to make.
Of the dozens of recipes I looked over, there are a couple schools of thought about Grape-Nuts distribution. Many go the double layer, set-it-and-forget-it route, but a few advocate stirring it twice during baking for a more uniform distribution of the little cereal nuggets. Naturally I called my mom to ask her counsel and more importantly, how would Great Aunt Dorothy make it? She weighed in as pro-double layer all the way.
Grape-Nuts pudding can be served hot or cold and the leftovers make for a lovely sweet breakfast. We like to serve it up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a generous sprinkle of Grape-Nuts to restore just a little crunch.
And if you ever find yourself up North; Cole Farms in Grey, Maine and Moody's Diner in Waldeboro, Maine both make a detour-worthy Grape-Nuts pudding.