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custard / ice-cream

Custard. A dish composed of milk and eggs, sweetened, and baked or boiled. — Webster, 1882

Today’s pies: Mince. Apple. Blueberry. Cranberry. Lemon. Green gage. Custard. Pumpkin. Squash. Raspberry. Apricot. Quince. Plum pudding. Rice pudding with wine sauce. Apple pudding. Peach dumplings a la mode. – Commercial Hotel, Tracy, Minnesota, October 13, 1879.

A custard is a traditional sweetened dairy dessert that differs from a pudding in that a custard contains eggs for thickening and flavor, while a pudding is thickened with flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot. If you don’t have good, rich milk and cream like the Wilders did, you might also want to add additional thickening to custard, as some of the recipes below suggest. The ratio of cream to milk used affects the thickness of custard, but it’s also a matter of personal preference. A thicker custard is typically used in pies, so that the slices hold their shape when cut.

Custard, or the ice-cream made from it, was often served with cake or cookies. In Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls and Mary Power are served a small sauce dish of custard and a slice of cake at the dime sociable (see Chapter 17, “The Sociable”).


Custards. Take one pint and a half of new milk and half a pint of cream; beat the yolks of fourteen or sixteen eggs, add the milk and cream to them a little at a time, then strain and add three ounces of loaf-sugar. Put all into a saucepan, and keep stirring it one way until it thickens. It must not boil, or it will turn to curd. Pour into a jug; add five drops of almond flavoring and a little brandy. A pinch of isinglass put in the saucepan with the ingredients makes the custard firmer. — Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine LXXXV (August 1872), 179.

Custard. 1 quart milk, 4 eggs, beaten yolks and whites separately, 4 tablespoons sugar, a grating of nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Bake in a buttered pudding dish till solid, and take from the oven before it curdles. — Mary Hinnam Abel, Practical Sanitary and Economic Cooking (New York: American Public Health Association, 1890), 110.

Custard pudding. Mix by degrees a pint of milk with a large spoonful of flour, the yolks of five eggs, and some grated lemon. Butter a basin that will exactly hold it; pour the batter in, and tie a floured cloth over. Put it in boiling water over the fire, and turn it about a few minutes to prevent the eggs from going to one side. Half an hour will boil it. Serve it with sweet sauce. — Esther Allen Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper (Cincinnati: H.W. Derby, 1845), 33.

Custard pie. For a large pie, put in three eggs, a heaping tablespoonful of sugar, one pint and a half of milk, a little salt, and some nutmeg grated on. For crust, use common pastry. — Esther Allen Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper (Cincinnati: H.W. Derby, 1845), 43.

Custard without Eggs. One quart new milk, four table-spoonfuls of flour, two table-spoonfuls of sugar, season with nutmeg or cinnamon, and add a little salt. Set the milk over the fire, and when it boils pour in the flour, which should be previously stirred up in a little cold milk. When it is thoroughly scalded, add the sugar, spice, and salt, and bake it either in crust or cups. — Esther Allen Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper (Cincinnati: H.W. Derby, 1845), 44.

A Rich Custard. Four eggs and put to one quart cream, sweetened to your taste, half a nutmeg, and a little cinnamon, baked. — Amelia Simmons, American Cookery (Hartford: Printed for Simeon Butler, 1798), 31.

Plain custard. Boil half a dozen peach leaves, or the rind of a lemon, or a vanilla bean in a quart of milk; when it is flavored, pour into it a paste made by a tablespoonful of rice flour, or common flour, wet up with two spoonfuls of cold milk, and stir till it boils again. Then beat up four eggs and put in, and sweeten it to your taste, and pour it out for pies or pudding. / A Richer Custard, Beat to a froth six eggs and three spoonfuls sifted sugar, add it to a quart of milk, flavor it to your taste, and pour it out into cups, or pie plates. — Catharine Esther Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book (New York: Harper, 1850), 107.

Custards. To prevent custards from curdling it must not boil, but should be stirred continuously over the fire until it becomes the thickness of double cream. No flavoring will curdle it except lemon. To give custard this flavor, thinly-peeled lemon-rind should be boiled in the milk with a little sugar before adding the eggs. — Godey’s Lady’s Book LXXXV (December 1872), 539.


custard (FB 18; LTP 17)
     ice-cream (FB 18)
     pie (FB 21)