Why did we decide to do a special post each month about a politician? I already can’t remember. But for February, we’re doing a really simple dessert that was nonetheless presidential.
Ulysses Grant is really better remembered for his military career than his presidency, which was notorious for corruption scandals. He was, however, a politician, and a really popular one at that. He served two terms as president. He wrote his personal memoirs (while dying of throat cancer), and its sales would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for his heirs. In 1900, his tomb was the most popular tourist attraction in New York; it had tens of thousands of visitors, many of them Civil War veterans.
I’ve always found him sort of a poignant figure, out of his depth in politics, and so I was interested to read that his favorite dessert was plain and simple: rice pudding. But this isn’t just “rice pudding” — it’s “Rice Pudding Melah”, after White House steward Valentino Melah, who apparently was obliged to serve it as often as possible (even at state dinners!)
No dessert at Delmonico’s, no matter how special, ever pleased President Grant as much as simple rice pudding. The Grants’ Italian steward Melah regarded this homey concoction as a challenge to his ingenuity and tried to vary it from time to time. No matter how he embellished it, Grant liked it and had it as often as possible when the family dined alone. When the inventive Melah experimented with rice pudding, however, it was good enough to be served at official functions–and actually was.
Measure 3/4 cup long-grain rice into a saucepan. Add 1 1/2 quarts milk and simmer very slowly until the rice is soft. Add 3 tablespoons butter, remove from heat, and cool. Meanwhile, beat 5 eggs well and stir them into the rice mixture. Add 1/2 cup sugar and mix carefully. Pour the mixture into a large greased baking pan and add 1/2 cup slivered almonds, mixing them gently into the pan. Bake in a medium-warm (325 degrees F.) oven until the custard sets. Remove from the oven, sprinkle a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg over the top and serve. Delicious either warm with cream or chilled. Serves 8.