Irma’s Swedish Rice Pudding

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!

Mom’s Hot Cocoa

One of the pleasures of taking a walk after a good snowstorm is the chance to observe the status of snow art and architecture in the neighborhood. The quantity and quality, as I judge it, varies from year to year, but there is clear evidence of creative urges in some children today.

Besides conventional snowmen, there are sometimes snowwomen and even snow families. I once saw a family of snow people complete with scarves, mittens and caps. The biggest one wore a beret, which made me think that it might be the Neige family visiting from France.

Snow monsters with strange faces, ears and protuberances have impressed me too, and I have marveled at how kids managed to sneak enough food coloring out of the house to turn their creations into red, blue or green individuals braving the whiteness of winter. With my first digital camera I took a photo of a snowman with an orange head, green jacket and blue bottom. Somehow the artists (there were lots of tracks around it) had also managed to trace a brownish stripe down the front. It looked something like a zipper.

I have been pleased to note that the construction of snow forts continues to this day, though none I have seen match the elaborate structures we built as kids, some designed after illustrations of medieval castles complete with moats, towers, keeps and dungeons. A couple of years ago, three ambitious youngsters built a good-sized fort with ramparts constructed of snow blocks quarried along the street and two access tunnels. Incidentally, the tunnels served their purpose: Neither I nor any other adult could get inside to attack the defenders. It was an impressive job that undoubtedly kept them out of their mother’s hair for a day or two.

Our mother encouraged us to build forts in the woods behind the house in summer and snow forts across the road where there were hard drifts along the snow fence. In fact, though modern mothers may disapprove, Mom sometimes ordered us to get dressed in snowsuits, boots, caps and mittens and go outside and play, even if it was below zero. Like eskimos we were taught how to live with cold, and we never ended up with any permanent damage.

One exception may be my ears, which are still very sensitive to below zero temperatures. That wasn’t my mother’s fault, however. She knitted me a warm stocking cap each year to fit her growing boy and told me to pull it down over my ears so they wouldn’t freeze when I walked to school. However, she couldn’t make me do that, because all us boys knew that only sissies pulled their caps down over their ears.

The teacher didn’t even tell on us when we froze our ears, since nearly every boy did it. She didn’t have much sympathy for us, either. “It’s your own fault.” she would say. “I’m sure your mothers told you to cover your ears. Just hold your hands on them and they’ll stop hurting after awhile.”

I think she told us not to do it again, too. Not that we followed her advice either, though many of us began pulling our caps down when we didn’t think anyone could see us. If you weren’t carrying books, you could cover your ears with your mittens. That was a pretty good technique because you could pretend to be adjusting your hat when you met someone.

Besides building snow forts we pulled our toboggan to a hill along the Namakagon River where we zipped down the slope and tried to keep from getting too scratched up in the blackberry bushes and thornapple trees at the bottom of the hill. We hiked or skied to a pond on the north forty of our property where we shoveled snow to make a skating rink, and of course we made snow angels, had snowball battles and in general enjoyed a time of year when, as a promoter of Bayfield, Wisconsin once wrote, there is no rain or mud or mosquitoes.

As much fun as those activities were, the best part was what awaited us after we had swept the snow off each other and gone inside. I can still smell and taste the cookies or cinnamon rolls and hot cocoa. In later years my mother began using chocolate milk mixes, but until I was nearly out of high school she bought cocoa powder in large tins for cakes, frostings, cookies and hot cocoa.

She made a syrup and stirred in milk. Then she put the pan on the back of the stove so the cocoa would be ready for us when we came in from the cold. She used real milk, but you can make it with low fat milk if you want. Speaking as an experienced consumer of hot cocoa, however, I assure you that adding a little cream or half and half improves the taste and texture.


2 T cocoa powder
2 T sugar
Dash of salt
3 T cold water
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


Mix the cocoa, sugar and salt together in a saucepan. Stir in the water and bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat. Use a fork to blend the solids into the water so you have a smooth liquid.

Whisk the milk into the chocolate with the fork and continue heating. Stir in the vanilla extract and stir the cocoa occasionally until it is steaming. If you want, you can top each cup with marshmallows.

NOTE: This recipe makes two cups of cocoa. Use your trusty calculator or a piece of paper and a pencil to increase the ingredients for the number of servings you need.

Once you try it, I think that you will agree that real cocoa powder, sugar and real vanilla with no ingredients added to extend shelf life or make it easier to stir the powder directly into the milk give this hot cocoa a richer flavor than anything from a mix.