Edible Bozeman

Mrs. Willson’s Maple Pudding

Related Story: A Taste of History

Picture this: You’re a 28-year-old classically trained opera singer, newly married, and your husband, Lester Willson, has just brought you to the tent camp of Bozeman in the Montana Territory. The mud is thick, the nights cold, and roughhewn men are aplenty. Do you break down in tears? Do you try to escape on the next wagon train? If you’re Emma Willson, you drag in Gallatin Valley’s first piano from New York to cultivate a sophisticated atmosphere.

In 1869, Lester Willson’s grocery in Bozeman was flourishing—but it was still limited by the confines of frontier life. It’s easy to imagine Emma’s dismay when the newlyweds returned to run the business from back East. But if she cried at the sight of the fledgling town, we never knew. She became known territory-wide for her singing and piano playing, entertaining at her famous private parties and at her beloved Presbyterian church that she helped build up. Her music apparently attracted bewildered immigrants to her open window, eager to hear the tunes. Emma and Lester had one child survive to adulthood, Fred. He, too, left his mark on Bozeman, designing the Baxter Hotel, Ellen Theatre, and old National Guard Armory.

I like to picture Emma’s maple pudding served at one of her fancy parties. Sticky sweet, it’s a custard consistency with a satisfying crunch of nuts. You’ll feel as rich as a town founder when you eat this.

1 heaping tablespoon gelatin
1 cup heavy cream, slightly warm
¾–1 cup maple syrup
2 egg yolks beaten*
½ cup finely chopped nuts (I used pecans)
½ cup chopped raisins or ½ cup chopped dried cherries
Mix the gelatin with warmed heavy cream. Set aside.

Mix the gelatin with warmed heavy cream. Set aside.

Boil maple syrup until it’s in the thread stage of candy making, about 220-225 degrees at Bozeman’s 5,000 foot elevation. You have reached the thread stage when a spoonful of the hot syrup forms thin threads when it’s dropped in a bowl of cold water. Remove from heat and whisk a couple tablespoons into the beaten egg yolks to temper, then whisk in the remaining maple syrup. While continuing to whisk, add the gelatin-cream mixture then stir in nuts and fruit.

Pour into your preferred molds (I used small custard cups). Place in freezer. Serve after 45 minutes to 1 hour.

*NOTE: Separate the eggs well. Your egg yolks will cook nicely in teh hot mixture, but any stray egg white will become unseemly white blobs.

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