If you have ever been invited to a Smörgåsbord, you might have had the opportunity to enjoy one of the culinary triumphs of Scandinavia—Swedish Rice Pudding. It was often made for dessert when the housewife had rice left over from dinner the day before. A dessert made with leftover rice may seem a little pedestrian, but it is is just one of many classic comfort foods that use ingredients saved from earlier meals.
Bread puddings are a good example. The best versions are made with stale bread. Of course, there are savory dishes in this category as well. Sauces, soups and casseroles frequently call for stock or broth made by simmering that ham or beef bone or turkey carcass left over from Sunday dinner. We should also remember that the Thanksgiving turkey should be stuffed with dressing made with bread that is at least a couple of days old. The bags of dried croutons at the supermarket are paltry imitations of bread that has been allowed to develop its full flavor in your kitchen.
Like my mother, Irma often made her pudding with leftover rice, and it was delicious. We may have tasted it at one of the Smörgåsbords at the First Lutheran Church in New Richmond, but Irma also served it to us in her home. When I asked our friend Anne about her mother’s rice pudding, she told me she was pretty sure that it was her grandmother’s recipe. Anne’s grandmother died before she was born, but her mother was proud of the Swedish customs and recipes she had inherited. She contributed her Swedish Rice Pudding recipe to the New Richmond First Lutheran Church Cook Book.
When I asked Anne if she had any tips for me about how to make the pudding taste as good as her mother’s, she said, “Whisk the eggs until they are nice and yellow and use whole milk. Oh, the rice should be cold.”
While we were talking I had the church cookbook open to the recipe, so I replied, “The recipe says to drain the rice and blanch it in cold water.”
She hesitated and cleared her throat. “She used leftover rice, didn’t she?” I asked.
“Well, yes, most of the time,” confessed Anne. One of the secret ingredients of Swedish Rice Pudding is now known, so cook extra rice when you are making dinner. Your family will bless you on the morrow.
For the rice:
1/2 cup rice
1 cup cold water
Dash of salt
For the custard:
5 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
4 cups milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup raisins
Bring the rice, water and salt to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the rice until the water is absorbed, about twelve minutes. Rinse the rice with cold water in a colander and set it aside.
Preheat the oven to 350º and grease a three quart casserole. You could also begin heating some water.
Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until they are lemon yellow. Combine the sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl and whisk these dry ingredients into the eggs. Stir in the milk and vanilla, then stir in the rice and raisins.
Pour the mixture into the casserole and put the pan on a center shelf in the oven. Pour about an inch of hot water into the pan and bake the pudding for one and a half to two hours. Using a fork, gently stir the pudding after thirty minutes to distribute the rice, raisins and cinnamon in the pudding.
After ninety minutes, test for doneness with a table knife. If it comes out clean, the pudding is done. If not, let it continue to bake for a few minutes and test again. You can serve it warm or cold.
NOTES: If you, like us, usually have only one or two percent milk in the refrigerator, you can fortify the milk with some half and half or cream. I use three fourths cup of half and half with three and a quarter cups of one percent milk. I haven’t tried it, but adding a couple tablespoons of melted butter would probably also work.
There are nine different recipes for rice pudding in the First Lutheran Church Cook Book. That number tells me that there must be thousands of different recipes for this dessert just in Wisconsin. I know that my mother made one similar to Irma’s baked in the oven, but she also made a simple version with leftover rice, milk, eggs and sugar that she cooked in a saucepan. I will try to find that recipe, as that pudding tasted pretty good too and doesn’t take as long to cook.
Irma’s Swedish Rice Pudding tastes great made with rice cooked as above and even better with leftover rice! Trust Irma! And my mother!