Mr. Peabody and Friends


Last week I attended the Peabody Awards in New York. No, I wasn’t being honored for my work in broadcasting since I don’t currently do any work in broadcasting. (I hope one of these days to offer podcasts and videos on this blog, but at the moment I’m still mastering the mechanics of putting printed words and still photographs up on the thing!)  

Each year I am invited to the Peabodys by a man with a big brain and a big heart, my graduate-school professor Horace Newcomb. I studied with him at the University of Texas. Now he directs the Peabodys at the University of Georgia.


During my doctoral studies Horace taught me a lot about Magnum P.I., I Love Lucy, and Dallas—and a lot about Walt Whitman and Theodore Dreiser as well. Like me, he came to media studies with a humanities background. That background helped him appreciate the narrative qualities in television and radio.


Horace was also a wonderful source of calm advice whenever I felt as though I was NEVER going to pass my comps or finish my dissertation or survive my doctoral defense. I think he must have been a therapist in a past life.


Horace Newcomb, a.k.a. Mr. Peabody

Horace Newcomb, a.k.a. Mr. Peabody

As director of the Peabody Awards Horace shepherds a diverse and distinguished group of academicians and media professionals as they evaluate the hundreds of entries that come in each year. The awards don’t have set categories so what the board is looking for is excellence. It’s a hard quality to quantify, but through days of thought and discussion they always manage to come up with programs that exhibit it. 

The resulting slate of radio, television, cable, and internet fare is always diverse. This year’s winners included national news programs like Washington Week, local news features like a Las Vegas station’s controversial series about the rerouting of rural water to Sin City, fictional programs like Breaking Bad, and a number of American and international radio and television documentaries.


Some awards went to traditional entities seeking new venues. The Peabodys recognized the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcasts that are thrilling opera lovers across the country, including those in my local metropolis of Shelburne Falls, and The New York Times web site. (Host Brian Williams mentioned that he had heard a rumor that the Times was thinking of launching a print edition as well.)


Others went to organizations for bodies of work; these included Turner Classic Movies, our TV cinematheque, and You Tube, our online video omnibus.


The clips from the honored programs and the speeches by the recipients were inspiring. We hear so much about the death of news in American radio and TV that it’s wonderful to hear people talk about the support their parent companies have given to strong investigative reporting.


For me as a writer it’s also wonderful to be in a room full of people who take their work seriously and spend the time it takes to get telling stories right—whether those stories are cartoons about an Asian Avatar, conversations about the financial crisis on This American Life, or the disparate election coverage of Saturday Night Live and CNN.


I go home every year with a renewed hope that I, too, will tell useful stories with heart and humor.  I also go home with happy memories of Horace and his wife Sara—and with flowers from my table at the Waldorf Astoria, which my mother always appreciates.


For a full list of this year’s Peabody Award winners visit the Peabody web site.


Meanwhile here is a (vaguely) Peabody-related recipe. One of the honorees this year was the HBO miniseries John Adams, which I adored (although I had always pictured Abigail Adams as much less bleak than her portrayal by the talented Laura Linney would suggest).


I called the Adams House in Quincy, Massachusetts (technically Adams National Historic Park) and asked the curator there, Kelly Cobble, whether Abigail had any favorite recipes.

Abigail Adams (portrait by Gilbert Stuart, Courtesy of Adams National Historic Park)

Abigail Adams (portrait by Gilbert Stuart, Courtesy of Adams National Historic Park)


Kelly told me that Abigail Adams was known to be fond of Indian Pudding. She emailed me a quotation from Henry Bradshaw Fearon, an Englishman sent to the United States in 1817 by a group of families who wanted him to look for a place on this continent in which it might be suitable for them to settle.


On Sunday, September 17, of that year Fearon wrote:

In the afternoon of this day, young Mr. Adams came from Quincy to conduct me to his grandfather’s… The ex-President is a handsome old gentleman of eighty-four; his lady a seventy-six; -she has the reputation of superior talents, and great literary achievements.

…first course, a pudding made of Indian Corn, Molasses and butter;  Second, veal, bacon, neck of mutton, potatoes, cabbage, carrots and Indian beans: maderia vine of which each drank two glasses.  We sat down to dinner at one o’clock, at two, nearly all went a second time to church.  For tea, we had pound-cake, sweet bread and butter, and bread made of Indian corn and rye…

In honor of Abigail Adams and the Peabody Awards, then, here is a recipe for Indian Pudding.




Indian Pudding


True to its name, this dish was a gift to New England settlers from Native Americans, a variation on their cornmeal mush. It was probably the most popular pudding in 18th-century America.


As Henry Bradshaw Fearon indicated, in our nation’s early decades pudding came at the beginning of the meal.  You may eat this one for dessert if you like, however! It looks pretty pathetic when it first comes out of the oven (like a not very appetizing mud pie). It looks a lot better with a spot of whipped cream and is satisfying to eat—warm and filling as pudding should be.


Like most puddings, it is adaptable; feel free to omit (or add to) the apples and to experiment with spices!



5 cups milk

1/3 cup molasses

1/3 cup white sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons sweet butter

2 medium apples



Heat 4 cups of the milk in a saucepan and add the molasses, sugars, cornmeal, cinnamon, salt, and butter. Cook until the mixture thickens (between 10 and 20 minutes), stirring frequently.


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Peel and core the apples; then slice them thinly onto the bottom of a 2- to 3-quart baking dish. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the dish on top of the apples. Pour the remaining milk on top, but do not stir it in.


Bake for 3 hours without stirring. Serve warm with cream, whipped cream, ice cream, or hard sauce. Serves 8.



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5 Responses to “Mr. Peabody and Friends”

  1. Raoul Montenegro says:

    Failing to win a Peabody Award again this year, I consoled myself with your delightful report of the awards ceremonies, appreciated the background reporting and then enjoyed (very much) your natural leap to Abigail Adams and her Indian Pudding. I’m not so certain about the menu served, and the prospect of rising from the table to return to church seemed an effort, but having tea with Mrs. Adams must have been magnificent for Mr. Fearon – tantamount to winning a Peabody. Recipes for Indian Pudding need to appear on a regular basis, and there’s been enough of a chill in the air to warrant one last pudding until fall. Thank you.

  2. Kathleen Wall says:

    In the winter Plimoth Cinema does Indian Pudding for the Saturday shows, and we have quite a following. I tried a couple of different recipes, but our favorite was based on Mrs. Faunce’s Plymouth Indian Meal Pudding from Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cooking School Book of 1883. My modification included cooking it in a slow cooker (I needed my oven for other things!) and the sometimes addition of dried cranberries. I discovered that there is a great fruit divide with Indian Pudding – those who like a raisin – or a cranberry,. and those who will pick them out and complain about each and every fruit bit. There’s one school of thought that Indian Pudding is a variation of Hasty Pudding, fully Americanized with corn (or Indian Meal) instead of oats and the ubiquitous post mid 17th century molasses. As I tell people new to this – it’s not very pretty, it’s just very good! One kid I introduced it to said it was a gingerbread cookie without the crunch!

  3. tinkyweisblat says:

    I love BOTH cranberries and raisins–but I didn’t see them in the letter about Abigail so I left them out. I’d love to have your recipe one of these days………..

  4. Kathleen Wall says:

    If I decide that I’m not entering it in the Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest….either way you’ll end up with it!

  5. Jim Littrell says:

    Really interesting! ….I love Indian Pudding and this looks really good.

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