Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nesselrode Pudding: A Thanksgiving Dessert

Count Nesselrode, thinking of dessert

It's Thanksgiving 1894, and you would like to serve your guests the most expensive, luxurious dessert that you can manage.

Can you guess what you'd be making? According to the New York Times, you'd be busy making Iced Nesselrode Pudding - and after they indicate with a vague verbal hand wave how expensive it was going to be (very), they tell you how to make it.

First, let's talk about what Nesselrode Pudding actually is. It was named for Count Karl Robert (Charles) de Nesselrode (1780-1862), a Russian diplomat who was best known for negotiating the Treaty of Paris after the Crimean War, and for this frozen dessert which was created either by the great French chef CarĂªme, or by Nesselrode's personal chef M. Mouy (sources differ, as they are wont to do). Nesselrode desserts - be they puddings or pies - were cream-based, and flavored with chestnuts, rum and candied fruit (which was itself known later on as Nesselrode). Nesselrode pie was popularized in New York by Hortense Spier, a restaurant owner of the 1890s known for her fancy pies.

Getting back to Thanksgiving 1894, the New York Times noted that Nesselrode pudding was the "ice taken oftenest by women at restaurant tables" and that if some "plucky woman cares to attempt it in her Thanksgiving menu" they would give us "a receipt to make that expensive and delicious dessert at home." Chestnuts were considered a luxury in the 1890s, as was the candied fruit. For example, the Thanksgiving Day menu for the Plaza Hotel in 1899 listed a number of desserts. Nesselrode pudding was one of the more expensive ones at 40 cents - pumpkin pie was only 20 cents, and even champagne jelly would only set you back 25 cents.

So one might be inspired to save money and make a delicious Nesselrode pudding at home. Here is what the plucky home chef would need to do:

Boil till tender three cupfuls of the large French chestnuts; remove the shells and brown skins, and pound to a pulp; cut a pound of French candied fruit into little pieces; cover with a wine glass of sherry; put in a cupful of water, with two cupfuls of sugar, and boil four or five minutes, or until it spins a light thread. Beat the yolks of four eggs to a froth, remove the syrup, and beat it into the eggs. Return to the fire and beat again. When the mixture reaches the boiling point put it on a table and beat until cold. Then add a pint of whipped cream, the fruit and the chestnuts, and a teaspoonful of vanilla. Freeze in an ice cream freezer, and stand away for two or three hours. The French candied or cooked fruit can be had at any first-class grocery store. For the benefit of persons living in smaller places it may be said that candied cherries and pineapple cut in bits and treated to the wine soaking answer every purpose of flavoring, and are usually to be made or obtained without difficulty.

And after spending lots of money on the chestnuts and candied fruit - both of which were considered to be luxuries in the 1890s -  she'd figure out how to budget taking everyone out for Thanksgiving dinner.

Source:  "Her Point of View," New York Times, November 25, 1894.

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