It was the year 1892 – right at the end of the Victorian era. Ever drive past a gigantic, old house with a large porch, a number of turrets and chimneys on the roof, and a rounded, tower-looking room on one side? Did you say, “Wow, look at that old Victorian?” That’s referring to the Victorian era, which was the time that Queen Victoria ruled over Great Britain from 1837-1901. Even in the late 1800s, America was learning who it was, so its culture very much still reflected what was going on in Britain. And, it was the Victorian era in Britain, so that carried over across the pond.
So, what does that mean? Well, different eras are defined by the popular culture of the times – books and authors, habits and mannerisms, fashion, housing and furniture styles, etc. And, the Victorian era really came to be known as having a popular culture based on portraying wealth. People built large, elaborate homes with grand entranceways and a room for every purpose. They decorated with luxurious rugs and ornamental, carved furniture. They read about Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, and Sherlock Holmes. They made it popular to take the train to vacation out of state in warm places like Georgia and Florida. They attended balls. And, they wore lace, silk, and gold.
What I like most about the Victorian era, though, isn’t the luxury and wealth it put forward. I like that it was really the first time women harbored a desire for change. You see, the Civil War had just ended, and with so many men being away, women took up work outside of the home, they formed organizations to support the cause, and they traveled to help the dead and wounded. Before the war, it was ladylike to be weak and frail; it made a lady faint to hear something even slightly disturbing; and, women were best kept in the home under the protection of a man. But, the Civil War changed that, and for the first time, women raised their voices. They formed societies to build parks and cemeteries; they ventured out and started businesses; and, they became the roots for the women’s suffrage movement!
So, what are we cooking? Lemon rice pudding from the Reliable Cook Book published in 1892.
Okay, let me first say that this recipe worried me right from the beginning. There’s no sugar in the pudding, for starters. It really looked like I was going to make lemon egg custard, which sounds a little… well, awful. But, I put my trust in the Reliable Cook Book, which turned out to live up to its name. The secret is in the meringue, which contains all the sugar. The sweet, light meringue combined with the rich, lemony pudding makes for a pretty perfect bite!
So, you win, Reliable Cook Book. Let’s go into the kitchen to make history!
Here are our ingredients: Rice (I just used what I had in my cupboard – long grain white rice), sugar, milk, lemons, eggs, and butter.
Step 1: I prepared my rice by following the package directions. I boiled 1/2 cup of rice in one cup of water for twenty minutes. While the rice boiled I did the following:
Step 2: I melted 1/4 cup butter. So, the recipe calls for “butter the size of an egg.” I love these old measurements. A quick google search told me that this equates to 1/4 cup, but I wondered why. Behold:
My eggs are a little small, but it’s pretty much perfect! Now, we definitely know which came first, the measuring cup or the egg. It was the egg.
Step 2.1: We’re still waiting for the rice to cook, so we can continue with preparing everything else we need. First off, preheat your oven to 350. Then, separate three egg yolks from their whites. You can also beat the yolks a little here. Or not. It’s up to you!
Step 2.2: And, we might as well prepare our baking dish, too. Why not? I rubbed a very small amount (not an egg-sized amount!) of butter all around my 8×8″ baking dish.
Step 3: Okay, now that your rice is probably cooked, put it into a mixing bowl. Then, add two cups of cold milk, the melted butter, eggs yolks, and go ahead and zest a lemon right into the bowl. I used two lemons because my lemons were tiny. But, one large lemon will do just fine!
Step 4: Once you’ve stirred everything together well (really well or else your mixture will separate in the oven), pour it into your baking dish. Then, off it goes into the oven!
Step 5: Now, as I’ve said before, not all ovens are created equal, least of all mine, which is the one that came in the apartment we’re renting. So, despite my efforts to regulate the temperature with a digital thermometer, the oven has a life of its own. The recipe says to bake this pudding for 20 minutes, but mine didn’t set for an hour… Sorry if that throws you off! Just try your best like I did!
Step 6: Let’s make the topping for our pudding. Put your egg whites in a mixing bowl, and squeeze in the juice of the lemon you zested. Get out your electric mixer, too, and thank technology. I don’t know how people whipped meringue by hand in the old days!
Step 7: Beat your meringue on low until it gets foamy.
Step 8: Then, start adding your sugar. I added about half of a 1/4 cup at a time, beating until the meringue became smooth and I could see tracks in it. After that happened, I added more sugar and repeated. I added slightly less than a full cup in total. Yes, it’s a sweet meringue, but that’s okay. Remember, there’s no sugar in the pudding.
Step 9: Scoop your meringue onto the top of your pudding, and put it back in the oven for about another 15-20 minutes. The meringue should get nice and toasty brown on top.
Step 10: Mine didn’t end up pretty. I blame my oven. But, it did end up. Whatever that means! The point is that it turned out to be something edible.
Final step: Now, before you dig into this, let it rest. You have to let it rest. I didn’t let mine rest, and when I cut into it, the meringue separated from the pudding, the pudding ran a little. It wasn’t pretty. But, after I left the kitchen feeling like a miserable failure and returned an hour later to start dinner, I discovered that my pudding wasn’t ruined at all! Letting it rest made all the difference. The meringue and the pudding became one, the rice soaked up the liquid in the custard. It all worked out. So, after you let your pudding rest, put it on a plate, grab a fork, and a make sure you get a bite of everything together. The sugary meringue perfectly sweetens the rich, lemony custard.
Try your luck with this pudding, and while you’re doing that, think about the lady who put together the Reliable Cook Book for us, Marcia L. Watson. She was a Victorian woman who clearly had a job, and a job in New York at that! I wish we knew her story. How did she make it through the Civil War? Did she first leave home as a nurse? Did she participate in Sanitary Fairs and make bandages? Maybe she organized a Ladies’ Aid Society to raise funds in 1864. And, if she did that, maybe she headed an organization. too, in 1892. Maybe on a simple Thursday – like today – in 1892, she headed home to get ready for a meeting that evening. Maybe she went home to make this rice pudding to serve to the suffragette society meeting she led each week. I like to think she did.
From 1892: Lemon Rice Pudding
- 1 cup rice, cooked
- 2 cups cold milk
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 3 eggs, separated
- Zest of one lemon
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 scant cup sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine rice, milk, butter, egg yolks, and lemon zest in mixing bowl. Stir until completely combined.
- Pour mixture into prepared 8×8″ baking dish and bake for 1 hour or until the pudding is firm and the top is golden brown.
- Place egg whites in mixing bowl and beat until foamy.
- Add sugar a few tablespoons at a time beating to incorporate before adding more. Continue until all sugar is used up and stiff peaks form.
- Scoop meringue onto top of pudding and smooth. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until meringue is lightly browned.
- Cool for 1-2 hours before serving.