Rolling in the deep: luscious, comfy custard

When cooking is your hobby and food a passion, epiphanies occur often. I’ve had a fare share of epiphanies throughout by life with the crux usually involving food, somehow. Understanding that most kids in this country did not have a big backyard garden or meals regularly featuring venison, quail or shrimp – provided by their own family members, as I did – was a surprise and an important insight. It’s also a point of guilt for me, when I remember how I begged my mom to buy Chef Boyardee that I had seen on television or tried at one of my school friend’s houses during a “spend the night party”.

I would complain in a whiny tone, “But why does everything we eat have to come from the garden? I want canned food!”,  I would exclaim. My heart sinks a little when I think of this now. I was so very lucky to have parents who not only knew how to raise their own food, but who loved gardening and home cooking and imparted that knowledge and love into their children.

My mom was (and is still) a wonderful home cook, but her claim to fame is her baking and dessert making. A classic dessert that was always to be found in our refrigerator, especially in the summer, was custard. I guess in some parts of the world this would be called ‘boiled custard’ but in our extended family, we just say ‘custard’ and everyone knows what you’re talking about. As I got older and understood a few of those epiphanies, I realized that lots of people had never had the pleasure of this luscious, homemade comfort food. What a shame.

My family eats custard plain, with fresh fruit, as an accompaniment to cakes and pies, as the pudding in banana pudding, and the pièce de résistance, as a base for making homemade peach ice cream! No July 4th holiday was complete at my house without peach ice cream. Since there was an abundance of free labor (5 kids in my family and at least another dozen or so between cousins and neighbors) the hand cranked ice cream churn was placed into production. We really worked for that ice cream but it was worth it!

Under the blazing Carolina sun, we would have the sprinkler set up in the backyard and our bathing suits on. After running through the sprinkler a few times, and we’d go relieve the “churner” at the helm. We’d turn the crank a few times and when the next kid/churner arrived, head back to the sprinkler. Every 20 or 30 minutes we’d add more rock salt and ice. After 3 or 4 hours (yes hours!) of this, the ice cream would go into the freezer for another couple of hours to harden up before being dished out after supper.

Rich and creamy, not too sweet with chunks of fresh SC peaches*, this ice cream was in a word, scrumptious. I think all the work made it that much better too, and when I think about it now, I suppose we did not see it as ‘work’ but as play. For me no store bought ice cream, no matter how decadent, will ever match this taste (and the warm & fuzzy feeling I get remembering those times).

One of my goals this summer is to make some of that peach ice cream with my daughter (and I’ll post on southbyse, of course!) but in the meantime here’s our family recipe for custard. Some folks actually drink custard, but not at our house – this recipe is fairly thick so we always used a spoon.

* South Carolina, the state where I was born and reside today, produces more peaches than any other state in the US. I know you thought that would be Georgia (since it’s motto is “the peach state”), but nope – we’re number one in peaches! In fact, according to the Clemson University extension service, just one grower in SC, Titan, produces more peaches than the entire state of Georgia. How about those apples – err, I mean peaches.

Simple ingredients: Whole milk, fresh eggs, a little sugar and flour and vanilla extract.

Mix the flour with the sugar. My mother always uses flour in this recipe to insure the custard thickened but don’t over do it. “Flour-ery” custard is blahhhh.

After the milk is scalded, add some of the scalded milk into the egg/sugar mixture and whisk away. You don’t want the eggs to ‘cook’ and end up with scrambled eggs.

After incorporating some of the scalded milk into the egg mixture do the reverse and whisk the egg mixture back into the scalded milk as the milk is reheating on low. Keep whisking as this mixture cooks. I use my ancient Calphalon saucepan but you can use a double boiler or a heavy pan like mine. This pan is so old (and used so often) the anodized finish is gone. It’s like an old friend to me now.

Keep cooking the mixture and stirring or whisking. Do not bring it to a full-on boil but just under a boil. The mixture will start to thicken and when it coats the back of a spoon it’s done. This image shows that it is NOT coating the spoon, yet.

Keep stirring/whisking and the custard will be thickening. Test with a spoon – and yes! This is coating the back of a spoon. It’s ready so remove from direct heat.

Stir the vanilla extract into the custard and pour into a container. Allow to cool slightly and place a sheet of plastic wrap directly to the top of the custard. This will prevent a ‘skin’ from forming on it. Cover the bowl with more plastic wrap (or a lid) and place in the refrigerator.

Here is a pound cake I made recently… and what’s that there? Yes, it’s custard (and some peaches too). This custard is versatile and it keeps for several days well covered, in the refrigerator.


  • 3 large eggs, well beaten
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 quart of whole milk
  • 2 tbl. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a heavy, medium-sized saucepan or top of a double-boiler, scald the milk and allow to cool slightly. In a small bowl mix the sugar and flour. Whisk the sugar/flour mixture into the eggs. Make sure this mixture is well incorporated and smooth. Spoon or scoop out about ¼ cup of the egg mixture and quickly whisk this into the scalded milk. Repeat and mix well.

Place the milk back on the heat and whisk the remaining egg/sugar mixture into the milk as it heats. Keep whisking and heating until the mixture comes almost to a boil and coats a spoon when it is dipped into the hot custard (see image). Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. *Allow to cool slightly and place in the refrigerator.

Serve on it’s own, with berries or as a cake or pie topping. This is awesome in banana pudding!

*Cover the slightly cooled custard with plastic wrap that touches the top of the custard. This should prevent a “skin” from forming on top.