My sister, Sue, and I went out looking for ham hocks and cornichons. The ham hocks were for a pot of Mom’s bean soup. (See A Ham Bone and Some Beans for the recipe.) The cornichons for our aunt’s memorial service. It would not be a proper service for her unless we served pâté, cheeses and white wine. Pâté without cornichons is like a hot dog without relish. This is one of the many life lessons our aunt taught her nieces.
Sue lives in Germantown. It’s one of those Philadelphia neighborhoods where huge old houses and a handful of Revolutionary-era historic mansions sit around the corner or across the street from tumbled down row homes. Chelten Market, a large supermarket that sits across from a Burger King and Wendy’s, meets the needs of the multinational community.
We found a couple of nice ham hocks inside but no cornichons. We also picked up packets of Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnam noodles and sauces and debated our need for pickled vegetables; the merit of sambol oelek over sriracha; and which of the four brands of coconut milk from three different countries are the best. The wall of Caribbean spices caused us to face the disturbing fact that we know nothing at all about Caribbean cooking.
“Holy moly! Irish sea moss!!,” I yelled and grab a bag full of pale curly things.
Sue didn’t share my enthusiasm. “What’s that?”
“They used it in invalid cooking.”
With all her medical knowledge, Sue was an invaluable resource when I wrote a book about invalid cooking and it raised her acceptance level of the moss as I added it to our basket. Irish moss is rich in vitamins and potassium chloride. 18th and 19th century recipes used it to treat upset stomachs, infections, and general recuperation. It could be crushed into a cream for burns and scraps. Some speculated that it increased men’s virility. Modern scientific studies back up the benefits of moss, except for virility. It does not.
As soon as I returned to Brooklyn, I refreshed my memory of all things Irish moss with a thorough search of my notes, a quick paging through old books and a brief internet scroll.
This was how I met Kim Kardashian. I’ve never paid any attention to her or the other Kardashians for no other reason than I haven’t. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t care to pay any attention to me, either. My life is boring and my unabated aging face might be horrifying. However, she’s a big proponent of Irish moss, touting it as a superb healthy addition to smoothies. Thanks to her Instagram account, everyone in the world now appears to know this and has found multiple ways to incorporate it into their own daily lives.
Another reason Kim might not want to hang out with me is because the one smoothie I’ve ever drank in my life was from the oldest son’s food cart. It contained coconut water, carrots, yogurt and flak and chia seeds. We added a good pour of rum so it might not have counted as that healthy.
Irish moss is now available in a variety of forms so you don’t have to be remined it’s seaweed or go through the process of washing sand off it. You’ll find it in health food stores and, of course, Amazon. Make the effort, though, to scope out a Caribbean, especially Jamaican, market where you’ll also find other ingredients you should figure out how to use.
I couldn’t find Kim’s smoothie recipe but there’s a slew of them around and I decided the world doesn’t need another one. Try this pudding, instead. Invalids, and those of us who find these days draining, will enjoy it.
Irish Moss Pudding
This pudding was one of the most frequently recommended dishes for nearly every stage of an illness. The Victorian-era cookbook where I copied it from described it as “a tender jellylike pudding, which has an agreeable taste, resembling the odor of the sea.” The longer you let it set, the firmer it’ll become but it will always be more of a puddle. If you really insist, it makes a terrific base for a smoothie.
1/3 cup dry Irish moss
1 quart whole or plant-based milk
1/4 cup sugar
Light cream, optional
Wash the moss to remove any clinging sand then soak it for 1/2 hour in warm water.
Wrap the moss in cheesecloth and immerse in the milk in the top of a double boiler set over slowly simmering water. Cook for 1 hour, being very careful the milk does not scorch.
Remove from the heat and let cool. Lift out the cheesecloth and squeeze to drain all the liquid in the moss into the milk. Add the sugar to the milk, then strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the milk to avoid a scum from forming. Chill in the refrigerator until set.
To serve: Scoop a little onto a plate and, if you like, surround with a puddle of cream. You might consider warming the cream and adding 1 tablespoon of brandy before pouring it around the pudding.
Banner photo credit: DailyMail.com