Almanzo’s birds’-nest pudding sounds more like an apple pie or apple betty served with cream than apples baked in custard, since Laura Ingalls Wilder describes a “syrupy brown juice” surrounding the apples. Either way, it’s a delicious dessert, especially when served with a pitcher of sweetened cream sprinkled with nutmeg. To make sweetened cream, add 1/8 cup sugar to a cup of heavy cream, and stir or whip to desired consistency or until sugar is dissolved. A bit of vanilla may be added for flavor. Grate nutmeg over the top of the cream in the pitcher before serving.
Recipes for Birds’-Nest Pudding, from the time of the Little House Books.
Apples baked in custard, sometimes with pastry, and served with sweetened cream. An early recipe for birds’-nest pudding reads: If you wish to make what is called “Bird’s-nest pudding,” prepare your custard, — take eight or nine pleasant apples, pare them and dig out the core, but leave them whole, set them in a pudding dish, pour your custard over them, and bake them about twenty or thirty minutes. — Lydia Maria Francis Child, The Frugal Housewife (Boston: Carter and Hendee, 1830), 65.
A recipe which includes the preparation of the custard reads: Put into three pints of boiling milk, six crackers pounded fine, and one cup of raisins; when cool, add four eggs well beaten, a little sugar, and four good-sized apples, pared, with the core carefully removed. To be baked, and eaten with warm sauce. — Esther Allen Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper, and Family Receipt Book (Cincinnati: H.W. Derby, 1845), 45.
Pare tart, well-flavored apples, scoop out the cores without dividing the apple, put them in a deep dish with a small bit of mace, and a spoonful of sugar in the opening of each apple. Pour in water enough to cook them; when soft, pour over them an unbaked custard, so as just to cover them, and bake till the custard is done. — Catharine Esther Beecher. Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book (New York: Harper, 1850), 108-109.
American Custard Puddings, sufficiently good for common use, may be made by taking five eggs beaten up and mixed with a quart of milk, sweetened with sugar and spiced with cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg. It is well to boil your milk first, and let it get cold before using it. “Boiling milk enriches it so much, that boiled skim milk is about as good as new.” (We doubt this assertion; at any rate, it can only be improved by the evaporation of the water.) Bake fifteen or twenty minutes. — Bird’s Nest Pudding. If you wish to make what is called a bird’s nest pudding, prepare your custard; take eight or ten pleasant apples, prepare them and take out the core, but leave them whole’ set them in a pudding-dish, pour your custard over them, and bake about thirty minutes. — J.M. Sanderson. The Complete Cook: Plain and Practical Directions for Cooking and Housekeeping (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1864), 161.
Pare and core some apples, enough to fill a deep dish; they should be ripe, and such as will cook easily. Make a custard of five eggs, to a quart of milk, and sugar and nutmeg to taste; pour this over, and bake half an hour. — Elizabeth Ellicot Lea. Domestic Cookery (Baltimore: Cushings and Bailey, 1869), 96.
Peel and core eight tart apples; in each hollow stuff sugar and a blade of mace, or a little cinnamon; make a batter of a pint of flour, a spoonful of corn-starch, a large tea-spoonful of baking powder, milk, or water, and a table-spoonful of melted butter. Mix almost as thick as a drop cake, pour over the apples, and bake three-quarters of an hour. Eat with sauce. To make a richer pudding, stew the apples first, but gently, and not so as to break them, stuff them with sugar, and citron, pour over a sweet custard, and bake. Boil it two or three hours and serve with wine sauce. — Jane Cunningham Croly. Jennie June’s American Cookery Book (New York: The American News Co., 1870), 153.
Peel and core six mellow apples; line a pudding dish with pastry; lay the apples in the bottom of the dish, and stick long narrow strips of citron around them. Stir to a cream a pint of powdered sugar, and half a pint of butter. Beat separately the yolks and whites of eight eggs; mix them with the butter and sugar, season with nutmeg, place it on the fire, and stir until it is hot; then pour it over the apples, and bake immediately. It can be eaten warm or cold. Do not allow the top to brown too soon. it should be covered with a pan, when first put into the oven, to prevent this. — Lafcadio Hearn, La Cuisine Creole (New Orleans: F.F. Hansell & Bros., Ltd., 1885), 201-202.
Crow’s Nest Pudding – One and one-half cups sifted flour, salt, two teaspoons baking powder, three teaspoons lard, the last two things mixed in the flour. Then to this add sweet milk to make just soft enough to spread over a pie pan of sliced tart apples, and bake. When removed from oven, turn over on a plate and make a sugared sauce to put on the top. Sauce: Sugar, flour, nutmeg, or lemon, stirred into boiling water; not too thin, so it will stay on. — Mrs. E.A. Stickney. The Los Angeles Times Cookbook No. 2 (Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Co., 1905), 63.
Bird’s Nest Pudding. – Peel tart apples, take out the cores, leaving the apples whole; make a custard of eight well beaten eggs, half a pint of cream, and a pint and a half of scalded milk thickened with a heaping tablespoonful of flour and a little salt, but no sugar. Pour it over the apples. Bake twenty minutes. When the apples are tender the pudding is done. Serve immediately with butter and sugar stirred to a cream. – page 260, Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, September 1867.
birds’-nest pudding (FB 6), see also nutmeg