Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding

Here’s an old, old recipe that happens to be gluten free, from way back before people even knew they might want to make such a thing. In fact, our family has a story almost a hundred years old, in which chocolate pudding played a key role.

In the winter of 1918, during the great “Spanish flu,” my paternal grandparents were very, very sick. Word spread through the neighborhood, including the fact that their two little boys (Dad was almost 7, his brother about 8) were fending for themselves as much as possible. To understand their situation, imagine a day with only wood stoves for heat and cooking, no convenience foods available, etc.

At the time, my other grandparents lived in the same rural community with their own two toddlers, my mother and uncle.  Upon hearing of my father’s family predicament, my mother’s mother went over to the home and came upon a pretty pitiful scene: desperately ill adults, a cold, cold house with little food, and two very hungry and scared little boys. Grandma went right to work, starting a fire in the cookstove and making a big batch of chocolate pudding. Ever after, my Dad would talk fondly of this wonderful gift of mercy, and my grandmother would just say, well of course, I had to take care of my future son-in-law, right? (Mom’s family moved many hours away shortly after this, and it was only about 15 years later when they really met and married.)

Back in 1918, pudding was often served as soon as it was cool enough to eat, and ever after, one of my father’s favorite comfort foods was warm chocolate pudding. If you have only had chilled chocolate pudding, you might want to try serving it hot off the stove, perhaps with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top. And if you have only had instant chocolate pudding or the kind you can buy in little refrigerated cups, this is really going to be an entirely new experience.

The following recipe is almost the same as the one my mother made over the years, with two changes.

First, her method involved heating the milk first, but this always needed a watchful eye to be sure it didn’t stick to the pan. By bringing water to a boil and using dry milk powder, I skipped that worrisome step. (If you want to use fresh milk instead, I have added the method for that following the main recipe.)

Second, the microwave is really the way to go for making a really creamy pudding with only an occasional stir rather than standing by the stove and stirring constantly until the pudding is fully cooked. As this photo shows, however, there is still a need for vigilance–and starting out with a large enough bowl!

Next time you are in the mood for a relatively simple, pretty inexpensive dessert–one that is gluten free too–step back in time and make a bowl of chocolate pudding “from scratch.”

Grandma Stirmel’s Chocolate Pudding, only slightly updated

2 c water
1/3 c sugar
3 T cornstarch
2/3 c dry milk
1/4 c cocoa–this can be increased to 1/3 c if desired
1 t vanilla

1.  Heat the water until almost boiling in the microwave.

2.  Meanwhile,  combine all the cornstarch, sugar, dry milk powder, and cocoa in a large, microwave safe bowl. Stir until the mixture is uniform in color.

3.  Slowly pour in the very hot water, stirring until all the dry ingredients are well-mixed.

4.  Cover loosely and cook at medium power ( power level 6 on most microwaves) stirring occasionally, for 5 to 6 minutes, until the pudding has thickened and is bubbling–kind of like the slow bubbles that you might imagine lava would form. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Stirring hints:
You probably don’t need to give this a first stir until almost 2 minutes into the process, but then you will need to stir more frequently, like every 30 seconds or so,
And then…
DON’T TURN YOUR BACK–it boils over quickly!

5.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve warm or chilled.
The pudding will be quite soft if served warm; if you want a firmer texture, you could add as much as one more tablespoon of cornstarch.

If served chilled, you may want to put a piece of waxed paper on the surface or cover tightly immediately, as these puddings tend to form a little bit of a “skin” on top. There is nothing wrong with this (in fact, the flavor can sometimes seem even more chocolate-y) so you can just stir it back in or skim it off and let the kids nibble on it.

Stove Top Variation
To make pudding on the stovetop instead of in the microwave, follow steps 1 through 3, heating the water until just warm–not boiling!–in a large saucepan on the burner. Gradully stir the mixture from step 3 into the hot water and stir pretty continuously over medium to low heat until the pudding “bubbles” and is thickened. Continue cooking and stirring for about 5 minutes after mixture begins to bubble, turning burner down a bit if the mixture starts to stick. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Other Ways to Vary the Pudding:

If you prefer, you can use whole milk (or 2% or  nonfat) in place of the water and dry milk. Heat the milk slowly in the microwave–it will boil over quite unexpectedly before adding to the dry ingredients.

You can also stir in a tablespoon of butter or about 1/4 c chocolate chips along with the vanilla.

Stir in cinnmon with the vanilla or use brewed coffee for some or all of the water.

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