This whole idea came about when I met a friend for lunch at a favorite watering hole, a Mexican restaurant in North Hollywood, called “Ernie’s”. My friend presented me with a basket of goodies—Key Lime Cookies and Butter Rum Coffee, a bottle of Basil Olive Oil and Dried Tomato spread. But it was the basket, white with something like a stained glass pattern, that really caught my eye. I tapped the basket with a fingernail. “This,” I told my friend, “reminds me of Nesselrode pie”.
“Nesselrode what?” she asked. She had never in her life heard of Nesselrode. I tried to explain.
In my mind, this was a pie but I couldn’t find a single recipe for Nesselrode pie and it took a lot of diligent searching to find Nesselrode anything. One of my favorite research sources is a neat old book called The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery, published in 1953 by Wm. H. Wise & company – they come through when no one else does:
According to Wise:
“Nesselrode Pudding – a frozen dessert created by Count Nesselrode, Chamberlain at the court of Belgium during the reign of King Leopold the First. This dessert is very rich and is most appropriate for an adult party. Since it is based on a custard, it should be considered an integral part of the meal and not merely a light terminating touch. The following is a modernized version of the original recipe:
3 cups milk
1 ½ cups sugar
5 egg yolks
½ tsp salt
2 cups light cream or 1 cup heavy cream and 1 cup evaporated milk
¼ cup pineapple juice, fresh or canned
1 ½ cups boiled chestnuts
½ cup assorted candied fruit
½ cup seedless raisins
8 or 10 chestnuts, additional
whipped cream for garnishing
Make a boiled custard with the milk, sugar, egg yolks and salt. While still hot, strain through a fine sieve. Add the light cream or the heavy cream and undiluted evaporated milk; the pineapple juice and the chestnuts which have been forced through a sieve. Freeze. If using a hand freezer, use the proportions of 3 parts of ice to 1 part of rock salt, and freeze solid. With automatic refrigeration, proceed as usual, that is, freeze the mixture to a mush, turn out into a bowl, beat vigorously, then return to the tray and continue the freezing which will take at least 2 ½ hours.
Now line a 2-quart melon mold with part of the frozen mixture. To the remainder, add the candied fruit, cut small; the raisins previously soaked in boiling water until plump then thoroughly drained; also the 8 or 10 chestnuts prepared as directed below.
Fill the mold to the very top with this mixture, cover with a buttered paper, adjust the cover and seal with a strip of adhesive tape or by smearing butter around the rim. Bury the mold in equal parts of ice and salt for 3 ½ to 4 hours. Drain off the salt water from time to time before it reaches the top of the mold. If using automatic refrigeration, place the sealed mold in the freezing chamber for at least 7 hours or even overnight.
To serve, unmold onto a chilled platter, first dipping the mold quickly in and out of hot water. Garnish with unsweetened unflavored whipped cream forced through a pastry bag.
To prepared the chestnuts: cut a ½” gash in the flat side of each. Place them in a heavy pan, adding ½ tsp of butter, oil or other fat for each cup of nuts. Shake over the fire for 5 minutes, then set in a slow oven (275) for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and strip off the shells and inner skins with a sharp knife. Now cover the shelled chestnuts with slightly salted water and cook over a gentle flame for about 20 minutes, more or less, according to the size of the nuts. Drain, then soak for 3 hours in Maraschino liqueur and break into pieces.
I was rolling on the floor laughing after typing all of this. It’s understandable why we now have instant pudding and Nesselrode has disappeared from the American vocabulary. I can’t figure out why in my memory banks it was a pie. (Or why I knew anything about it at all!)
However, I found another reference in a book called the Food Chronology by James Trager – according to Trager, this dessert was created in 1856 by Russian Diplomat Karl Robert County Nesselrode’s head chef, one Mouy; Russian Diplomat Nesselrode had worked since 1854 to reestablish peace and was commemorated for his efforts by his chef with Nesselrode puddings and Nesselrode pies (italics mine) – consisting of custard cream mixed with chestnut puree, candied fruits, currants and white raisins or whipped cream.
Then, while searching for something else entirely, I happened to find considerably more information in a book called “RARE BITS” by Patricia Bunning Stevens. Stevens provides unusual origins of popular recipes so that, should you be curious about the how or wherefore of things like Kugelhupf or catsup, Buffalo Wings or Hush Puppies, Shoo-Fly Pie or Boston Brown Bread, this is the book for you. Published in 1998 by the Ohio University Press, this book is an excellent reference book for dozens of foodie things.
Stevens concurs that Nesselrode takes its name from Count Karl Nesselrode but adds that he was “A German by heritage who nevertheless served as foreign minister to the Russian Czars for most of his career. She also agrees that Nesselrode, described as “an iced pudding” was actually created by Nesselrode’s chef, almost certainly during the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15, convened after Napoleon’s first abdication.
“The Congress of Vienna,” writes Stevens, “set out to redraw the map of Europe as if Napoleon had never existed. It could not be done, of course; the delegates might as well have tried to put Humpty Dumpty together again. But the foreign ministers of the leading European powers did manage to hammer out a whole string of treaties based on balance of power that gave Europe a hundred years of relative peace….”
Stevens says that a number of dishes in classic cuisines were named for Nesselrode, mostly soups, “but few, if any besides the elegant ‘pudding’ still appear on menus today”.
I’d be curious to learn where in the world anything Nesselrode appears on a menu today. If you know the answer to this, I’d be happy to hear from you!
Happy cooking – and Happy recipe collecting!