Steeping in the recipes beloved by Vincent Price

The name Vincent Price, to most people ,immediately conjures something at the minimal spooky or sinister, at the most the stuff of nightmares. For decades, Price (who died in 1993), with his moody ominous presence (in the characters he portrayed) and THAT VOICE that was at once irresistible and shiver-inducing, made him somewhat a master of horror of radio and recordings, stage, film and television. 

Renowned for his many horror films, like “House of Wax” and “The Fly” to “Edward Scissorhands,” to his lending his voice to the works of everyone from Poe to The King of Pop (on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”), Price has been synonymous with all that is shadowy and dark, and the late icon’s name and presence are revived ever more each Halloween season. 

Price never scared me as much as he may have others. I found his voice and his visage fascinating, and could have watched and/or listened to him doing anything. I thought he had an elegance and sophistication that floated above all that he was a part of that seemed to sometimes dwindle into campiness (but he seemed to have fun with anything he was doing, no matter what).

There was a side to Price many know little about, and I’ve just come to be aware of recently. He was a real foodie. He loved good food, eating in favorite restaurants, exploring how the foods were created and cooking them himself. He authored cookbooks, including his classic, “A Treasury of Great Recipes,” which he wrote in 1965 with his second wife, Mary. In 1971, he even had a six-episode show called, “Cooking Price-Wise with Vincent Price,” and appeared on cooking segments on numerous talk shows:

Work, art and food were the three things that Price said made him happy. His legacy in food had early beginnings, born in St. Louis in 1911 to Vincent Price, Sr., who was the president of the National Candy Company. Price’s grandfather, Vincent Clarence Price, was the inventor of the first cream of tartar-based baking powder. Price, intending to study art, was eventually captivated by theater, which took him on his course to acting fame. But he was a lifelong gourmet.

I recently purchased Price’s weighty cookbook, “A Treasury of Great Recipes,” which features menus from restaurants and recipes from countries around the world. In the opening pages, Vincent and Mary wrote: “Our table reflects the many lands we have traveled in, and the hands that fed us.”

Recently there was a Vincent Price movie marathon on TV. The light had changed, the temperature had dropped and I plopped Price’s heavy cookbook on my lap and decided to pick out something to make. I wanted something definitively fall, and thumbing through the book, I landed on a recipe with autumnal flavor, perfect for the season. Indian Pudding is a classic New England dish, very old and traditional  that is a cross between custard and bread pudding. Eggs, sugar, milk, butter, baking soda and salt, are blended with the stuff of gingerbread — molasses, ginger, cinnamon and cloves — and all is thickened with cornmeal and steeped in a long baking process that, as Price wrote “gives the spices a chance to fuse in a mellow symphony of flavor.”

The dish is mixed by combining some of the ingredients (dry ingredients, eggs, butter and molasses), then adding half of the hot milk and pouring all into a buttered casserole.

I ended up doing two smaller casseroles, because I didn’t have a big enough one “pretty enough to serve it in,” as Price described, but I thought this would also lower the total cooking time (his recipe says to bake the pudding five hours). 

The first stage of baking is allowing half of the pudding to come to a boil at high temperature in the oven (425). Then the rest of the hot milk is stirred in, the oven temperature is lowered and the pudding bakes to completion. 

Mine seemed to be set and ready after about two hours. The pudding gave off all those fall gingerbread smells and, in fact, resembled a gingerbread in color and sheen when I removed it from the oven.

I gave the pudding a chance to rest and cool and later in the evening, when the shadows seemed about right and the glow of my fall autumn lights added needed warmth, I whipped some fresh heavy cream and topped a bowl of the Indian Pudding with a dollop, which I sprinkled with ginger. The texture and buttery taste of the cornmeal gave just enough firmness to the softly spicy custard. The pudding was not too sweet, but all very satisfying. It would be the perfect end for any fall feast. There was nothing but comfort here, and I believe that, outside of the genre he was known for, Price, with his warm elegance and the voice more familiar than any, was always more soothing than scary.

Indian Pudding

From “A Treasury of Great Recipes,” by Mary and Vincent Price (1965, 2015)

  • 6 cups milk, divided
  • 1 cup yellow corneal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses
  • 4 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat milk until hot but not boiling. Mix well all ingredients except milk. Add 3 cups of the hot milk. Mix well and pour int a buttered 2-quart baking dish or casserole pretty enough to serve from.

Put in the hot oven until mixture boils. Then reduce oven heat to very slow (225 degrees).

Stir in remaining 3 cups hot milk and bake the Indian Pudding slowly for 5 hours.

Let pudding stand for about 30 minutes to set. Serve warm with whipped cream and a sprinkling of ground ginger.

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