Eighteenth Century Sickbed Custard

Eighteenth Century Sickbed Custard

Karen Hammonds who runs Revolutionary Pie writes: Modern custard recipes usually call for vanilla, but that wasn’t used in America in colonial times. Thomas Jefferson first brought vanilla beans back from France in the 1890s, and as Richard Sax noted in Classic Home Desserts, vanilla extract wasn’t widely available until the mid-19th century. Eighteenth-century custards were flavored with wine or brandy, tea, or spices. I added nutmeg to Simmons’s recipe since it seemed so bland — but I guess that was sort of the point.

Sickbed Custard Ingredients
3 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling on top
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


[1] Preheat oven to 325° F.

[2] Scald the milk. Remove the skin that forms on top, then stir in the sugar and salt.

[3] Beat the eggs well with a whisk. Add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the eggs and blend, then pour eggs into the rest of the milk in a steady stream and whisk well.

[4] Set six 6-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan. Pour the custard into the cups, then sprinkle the nutmeg on top of each. Pour hot water in pan to a depth of halfway up the sides of the cups.

[5] Bake custards until they are set but still jiggly in the center, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove ramekins from the water bath and let sit briefly. Top each custard with a little cane or brown sugar and serve warm.