Aunt Grace wasn't an aunt - she was a neighbor. It's not a pudding - it's a custard. Whatever it is called, it is undeniably delicious. In the 1890s, in Prophetstown, Illinois, my grandmother Ruth Potter and her siblings grew up in a family that shared holiday meals with the neighbors - Aunt Grace and her family. Aunt Grace always brought the dessert - and to make a large enough quantity, she used two molds, one of which was the basin from the pitcher-and-basin set. It was my grandmother's sister, Great-Aunt Maude, who "downsized" the recipe to fit a one-quart mold. That was before gelatin was sold in small, quarter-ounce sized packages, and the result is that the recipe calls for a package plus 1 teaspoon of gelatin. (I have always contended that if Hercule Poirot ever needed to determine who "real" Potter women were, all he would need to do is check out the unflavored gelatin packs in our kitchens. Everyone in the family has opened, partly used gelatin waiting for the next Aunt Grace's pudding!) My mother's sister, while visiting her husband's family in Norway in the '80s, learned that the recipe is actually a Norwegian favorite. That makes sense - Aunt Grace's family could easily have emigrated from Scandinavia to the American Midwest. Each generation has subsequently made changes to the recipe - my mother's was the first to use an electric beater. And I have increased the amount of chocolate in the recipe - modern tastebuds have become accustomed to higher flavor concentrations. The recipe remains delicious well into its second century in the family, and continues to be a staple at Thanksgiving and all major holiday or family dinners. Or just because!
Soften 1 envelope plus 1 t gelatin in 1/4 cup water.
In a double boiler, heat the dissolved gelatin, milk and baking chocolate. Add the sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved, then pour over the well-beaten eggs while continuing to stir. Cook until thick like soft custard (10-15 minutes). Stir constantly, but do not all to boil. Add the vanilla and (optional) beat with an electric beater until smooth.
Pour into a 1-quart ring mold and chill until set. Serve with whipped cream. Delicious!