Rice pudding

Missing image
Rice pudding being served during the traditional Scandinavian Christmas meal, in Denmark
Rice pudding has, for at least four centuries, been a traditional dessert in Northern Europe and North America. It is also well known in South Africa. It has a very mild flavor and a soft consistency. Opinion on it is apt to be sharply divided. Those who prize it often regard it as a comfort food. Others find it unpleasantly bland and glutinous.


The earliest mention of rice pudding appears in 1542 in the then Danish town of Malmö. In the 18th century, Scandinavian commoners began to substitute the older rye porridge and barley porridge for rice pudding (called white porridge) at festivities.

Rice pudding in folklore

In Sweden, rice pudding, risgrynsgröt, is traditionally served at Christmas and often goes by the names julgröt (Yule porridge) and tomtegröt (tomte porridge). The latter name is due to the old tradition of sharing the meal with the guardian of the homestead, the tomte (see also blót). The pudding is usually eaten with cinnamon and sugar. Sometimes an almond is hidden in the pudding and popular belief has it that he one who eats it will be married the following year.

Rice pudding in literature

A reference to rice pudding is found in the second verse of the seventeenth-century nursery rhyme, "Pop Goes the Weasel:"

    Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
      Half a pound of treacle.
    Mix it up and make it nice,
      Pop goes the weasel.

Rice pudding is mentioned frequently in literature of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, typically in the context of a cheap, plain, familiar food, often served to children or invalids, and often rendered boring by too-frequent inclusion in menus.

In Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Kenelm Chillingly, a would-be host reassures a prospective guest: "Don't fear that you shall have only mutton-chops and a rice-pudding...". In Henry James' A Passionate Pilgrim, the narrator laments: "having dreamed of lamb and spinach and a salade de saison, I sat down in penitence to a mutton-chop and a rice pudding."

Charles Dickens relates an incident of shabby treatment in A Schoolboy's Story: "it was imposing on Old Cheeseman to give him nothing but boiled mutton through a whole Vacation, but that was just like the system. When they didn't give him boiled mutton, they gave him rice pudding, pretending it was a treat. And saved the butcher."

In Ethel Turner's Seven Little Australians, the children express dissatisfaction with their food. "My father and Esther... are having roast fowl, three vegetables, and four kinds of pudding," Pip says angrily. "It isn't fair!" His sister notes that "we had dinner at one o'clock." "Boiled mutton and carrots and rice pudding!" her brother replies, witheringly.

Rice Pudding is the title and subject of a poem by A. A. Milne, in which the narrator professes puzzlement as to what is the matter with Mary Jane, who is "crying with all her might and main/And she won't eat her dinner—rice pudding again—/What is the matter with Mary Jane?" As the poem proceeds, the reader comes to suspect that Mary Jane's problem is connected with the word "again."

An 1884 New York Times article is entitled Living on a Small Salary: Close Economy Practiced by a Clerk and his Wife. They Live Comfortably in a Brooklyn Flat and Save Nearly $300 Out of a Yearly Income of $1000. "You observe," says the husband, "that although we have but little beyond the bare necessities of life we manage to live comfortably and happily." "Yes, indeed, we are happy," interjects the wife. The reporter describes their evening meal as a plate containing "a nice cut of beef, a couple of boiled potatoes, and a liberal portion of green peas." For dessert, there is rice pudding, which the reporter describes as "truly a delicious compound of rice and egg and sugared frosting."

A 1917 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, on treatment of Turkish prisoners of war in Egypt describes the food with approval. The "ordinary diet" is described as "Breakfast: Arab bread; sweetened fresh milk. Lunch: Arab bread; beef; rice, vegetables. Dinner: Arab bread; rice soup; rice pudding."

Rice pudding is mentioned with much more affection in an incident related by Walt Whitman in Specimen Days. Whitman visited an invalid soldier who "was very sick, with no appetite... he confess'd that he had a hankering for a good home-made rice pudding—thought he could relish it better than anything... I soon procured B. his rice pudding. A Washington lady, (Mrs. O'C.), hearing his wish, made the pudding herself, and I took it up to him the next day. He subsequently told me he lived upon it for three or four days."

In Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the supercomputer Deep Thought derives the existence of rice pudding from first principles. This is to counterpoint between the complexity of Deep Thought and its task of exploring the eternal verities, with simplicity of the pudding.

Recipes, old and new

A recipe for rice pudding is found in the (1615) domestic guide, Gervase Markham, The English Huswife:

Take a half pound of rice and steep it in new milk a whole night and in the morning drain it and let the milk drop away; then take the best, sweetest and thickest creme and put the rice into it and boil it a little; and set it to cool an hour or two and after, put in the yolks of half a dozen eggs, a little pepper, cloves, mace, currants, dates, sugar and salt; and having mixed them well together, put in a great store of beef suet well beaten and small shred and so put it into the frames and boil them as before showed, and serve them after a day old.

The 1881 Household Cyclopedia also has a recipe for plain rice pudding:

Pick and wash the rice; add all the ingredients. Stir all well together, and put in a slack oven one and half to two hours. When done pour it in a pudding dish, and serve when cold. If baked in an oven, take off the brown skin before it is poured in the pudding-dish, and replace it on the Sop of the pudding as before.

One typical modern recipe for rice pudding is:

  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup uncooked rice
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or nutmeg; 1/2 cup raisins, chopped dates, or chopped figs
Mix ingredients and bake uncovered 3 hours at 300° F, stirring several times during the first hour.


nl:Rijstebrij sv:Risgrynsgröt


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