Friday, March 28, 2014

Cracker Pudding

by Sheila Connolly

I may have mentioned that my Orchard Mysteries are set in a colonial house that was built by an ancestor of mine around 1760. I’m not sure if I mentioned that the owners in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century were still of the same family (and I’m related in different ways to both spouses). 

The woman of the house, Olive Barton Warner, kept a series of diaries, and the first (that we know of) was written in 1880 when she was about forty. Mainly she describes what she did, day to day, along with her two teen-age daughters. Husband Eugene took care of the outside stuff, like milking the cows and managing the farm and selling the produce they didn’t consume themselves (yes, including the apples from their orchard).  Although to give him credit, he did help peel apples for Olive now and then, and since she made anywhere from six to 14 pies on any given day (I can give you the dates!), that was a significant contribution.

I find the diaries fascinating (it’s just a little weird to know that kitchen, where Olive stood, where the barn was, what the view from the kitchen window looked like, and so on, because I’ve been in the house several times), because she provides details of what she cooked (bread, biscuits, cakes, and all those pies). She made butter every few days. She refers to what they ate for dinner only occasionally, except that apparently whenever they had meat with dinner (rarely) it was worth mentioning.  There are other wonderful details about what they wore and how they made or remade it, what kind of housecleaning they did, and who they either paid calls on or entertained in the house. It’s a delightful snapshot of country life in 1880. 

More than once Olive mentioned making “cracker pudding,” which I had never heard of. So I started hunting for a recipe. On the Internet there are a lot of references to Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch cracker pudding, which includes coconut (really?). That’s clearly not the right one: there were no Amish in the real town of Granby, Massachusetts, which became the fictional town of Granford in my books.

So I dug deeper, and came up with a recipe from the New England Country Store Cookbook by Peter W. Smith (which I do not own and which does not appear to be available for sale anywhere at the moment) which fit the bill.  It was called “Common Cracker Pudding,” and the author claimed that the recipe was over a hundred years old. Yup, that’s the one.

The recreated general store at Old Sturbridge
Village--note the barrels
 The problem is, “common crackers” are no longer widely available. You know, the kind general stores kept in barrels by the counter? Nabisco used to make them, but they stopped a while ago. (The Amish recipes all seem to want to use Saltines, but that’s not the same thing.) I did track down one source: the Vermont Country Store. And they shipped the crackers out the next day. I now have enough for several batches of Cracker Pudding.



New England Cracker Pudding 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease an 8-cup casserole dish.


3 pints (6 cups) whole milk
1 pint (2 cups) common cracker crumbs (break them up with a rolling pin)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tblsp softened butter
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
1 cup seedless raisins

Mashed with my own vintage rolling pin

After pulverizing the crackers (the crumbs don’t have to be too fine), soak the cracker crumbs in two cups of the milk until soft (reserving the rest).


Mix in the sugar, butter, salt and cinnamon and spoon it into the casserole.


Bake for one-half hour. Remove the casserole from the oven and stir in the raisins. Carefully pour the remaining four cups of milk around the edge of the pudding (don’t just dump it in the middle).


Return the casserole to the oven and bake for another 2-1/2 hours. Yes, this is a long slow recipe, but it doesn’t take much tending once it’s assembled. Olive made it in March and April, when it was still cool enough in Massachusetts to keep the oven on all day—I wouldn’t try it in August!


It’s not a very sweet dessert, and some older recipes suggest adding a dollop of jam.

The next Orchard Mystery, Picked to Die, won't be published until October (and I don't have a final cover yet), but here's the most recent one, Golden Malicious:
Since this story includes an insect infestation and the US Department of Agriculture appears in the book, this will be a raffle item at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting. Who would have thought!


  1. I love all the effort you put in this. How marvelous to have so much back-story on the house and its inhabitants.
    The Vermont Country Store is a great source for "do they still make that?" items.

  2. What a wonderful post, Sheila. I love reading about the house and your ancestors. Fun recipe too!

    Thank you!

  3. Wow, this is fascinating! Thanks for sharing your ancestor's amazing journal and all the research you put into this dish.

  4. Sheila, I absolutely loved this post ! Your vintage rolling pin makes me drool with envy . . .

  5. Love this post, Sheila. So interesting. I think they cooked with a *great* deal less sugar until after WWII. I'm a fan of Vermont Country Store, too.