One of my most fondly remembered treats of the holiday season is boiled custard. It is a long-standing tradition and a civilizing influence, with strong roots in both Texas and southern heritages. It bespeaks a time of Christmas Eve suppers and New Year’s Day open houses, before beer and football became the overriding master of most holiday households.
My grandmother made the boiled custard in our family. Between Christmas and the New Year, there was always a big pitcher of it in the refrigerator. It was like drinking melted ice cream, and her version was basically the same recipe she used when making ice cream — eggs, milk, sugar, cream and vanilla. The adults often added a measure of bourbon to their cup for a little holiday cheer, but the kids took the smooth and creamy potable straight. Both groups adorned their custard, properly served in small crystal punch cups, with a sprinkle of nutmeg.
Though closely related, boiled custard is not the same thing as egg nog. Traditionally, egg nog is not cooked, even though it contains eggs. The whiskey or rum added to the egg, sugar and milk mixture “cooked” away the raw egg taste and put the nip in the nog.
Boiled custard, though cooked, is not really boiled. It is cooked slowly at a gentle heat, lest the eggs in the mixture curdle, making lumps. Cook the custard too long and it gets too thick to drink; not long enough and it is too thin, never reaching that thickly flowing state of grace the perfect concoction achieves.
Several years ago, I wrote a column about boiled custard and soon got a letter from Dr. W. Doak Blassingame of Denison, who enclosed a recipe from his grandmother, Mrs. Thankful Webb Dean of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. She was born in 1856 and as a girl had heard the cannons from the battle fought there in 1862. She lived to be 98, no doubt helped along by plenty of boiled custard.
I tried it and liked it, and it brought back a cupful of memories. Here are the good doctor’s directions for:
“Thankful Boiled Custard”
1 quart milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Beat eggs in a large sauce pan until well blended. Add sugar and vanilla and beat while milk is warming in second pan. Slowly add warm milk to egg mixture and stir. The milk should not be hot or it will curdle the eggs.
Cook the mixture on medium heat or lower, stirring often until custard starts to thicken and coats the back of a spoon. Strain custard pitcher and refrigerate. When cold, drink it down.
Dr. Blassingame noted that if the custard curdles despite your best attention, you can give it a whirl in a blender to smooth things out and save the batch.
If you make some this year, save a cup for me. Happy New Year.
Happy birthday to Charleane Crumby, Linda Wilson, Craig Davis Jr. and Devon Rogers, all of Sherman; Janey Waldrip of Bells; George Mardock of Southmayd; Nancy Smith of Whitesboro; Martha Tate of Luella; and Caylin Hannan of Colbert, Oklahoma.
Happy anniversary to Vanessa and Lyndon Trotter of Sherman, 39 years.