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Passing On Three Centuries of Boiled Custard Memories- Our Family's Southern Christmas Tradition

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

Writing this wells up so many emotions of Christmas past, of loved ones now with the Lord and happy times. The scent of balsam, the taste of cinnamon, the sound of a special album, these are the tastes, smells and sounds that are Christmas for so many. For me and my family, for generations, the taste of Christmas Day has to be Boiled Custard. I can remember my first taste at my Great-Grandmother's on Christmas Day. She always made a huge batch and served the sugared elixir in Dixie cups. The explosion of comforting taste was like no other as a child. Boiled Custard is like a magical concoction of creme brûlée, milk, caramelized sugar and vanilla and other flavors that really has to be experienced. It's rich to say the least, but wow! It's amazing!

NOTE: When you watch the video below I did not show the addition of the vanilla. I could not ask my little one to re-film ;0) Stir it in at the very end.

Having grown up with this tradition I was unaware of how unusual it was. I can remember my "badly misinformed" cousin turning her nose up with an arrogant twist one Christmas morning saying, "she did not like egg nog" and "would not try it"! My, my. It's NOT egg nog. It bears no resemblance! I can remember being totally taken aback that anyone would not savor the once a year treasure of the three or four mouthfuls which I had to wait 364 days before having once again.

Our Southern Boiled Custard is always served in antique demitasse.
Our Southern Boiled Custard is always served in antique demitasse.

Seven Generations of Cooking

My family has made Boiled Custard for at least seven generations starting with my Great, Great, Great-Grandmother Bell of British decent through to me and now my sons. I'm sure we have made it longer than that as many of the families in the rural portion of Anderson County, South Carolina also have this recipe. My Great-Aunt, Linda Stone, has always said that boiled custard was originally given to people in the country after they had been sick to build them back up and replace lost calories. So at-least from the nineteenth, twentieth and now twenty-first centuries this has been our tradition.

The first time I remember making boiled custard, at about the age of six or seven, was with my Great-Grandmother and her three daughters including my Grandmother, Sara. We boiled and boiled and stirred and stirred the huge pot in her kitchen for what, to my childlike mind, seemed hours! My grandmother got so hot off came her blouse down to her bra! That was very unusual for my very sophisticated Southern lady of a Grandmother but she was with her sisters and mother. I can remember my Great-grandmother saying, "Don't stop stirring or it will stick"! What a sweet Christmas memory of four great ladies.

New Traditions

When I started my own household I delved into making the dessert. The first year I made it my custard congealed. Epic fail! After many years of Christmas consultations with my grandmother and aunts I finally got it right well over a decade ago. Before my grandmother passed she would sip a bit and say, "that tastes like Christmas, just like my Grandmother King used to make".

My Great-Aunt Linda added the microwave to the recipe and mixer to cut down the prep time. The Dixie cups are gone now, I replaced those with china demitasse and I serve them every Christmas night on a huge metal platter wheel with crushed ice. Now I'm teaching my sons each year to make it, so the tradition is passed on with a Locke family twist.

When my wife and I first married she was mystified by this tradition but after one sip was a convert. It would not be Christmas without our Boiled Custard! The Locke boys don't lay out cookies for Santa but rather an antique demitasse of Boiled Custard. I hope you add this one to your special celebrations.

My Great-Great Grandmother would have loved a microwave and stand mixer

Recipe from Lilly Mae King Irby 1906-1993

Great-grandmother of David Locke. This was her mother’s recipe, Rosalie Bell King

My Great-Grandmother didn’t have the conveniences of a microwave and Kitchen-Aid Mixer that makes this custard so much easier.


1 Gallon Whole Milk

1 Dozen Eggs (separated)

3 Cups Sugar (or sweeten to taste)

1 Small Bottle Madagascar Vanilla Flavoring


NOTES: *Failing to stir the custard constantly while keeping the spoon in contact with the bottom of the pot will result in a scorched custard. Be careful not to end up with creme brûlée and not boiled custard by cooking too slowly. This recipe yields about 40 servings so you can easily halve the recipe for less.

Separate 12 eggs, retaining both yolks and very clean whites.

Begin warming the gallon of milk in approximately 3 cup batches in the microwave in a large glass microwave safe pitcher.

Using a very large boiler pot with a heavy bottom, pour the warmed milk into the boiler. Begin heating on a low setting stirring constantly.

When the milk begins to reach a very warm temperature slowly add the sugar while stirring constantly.

When the milk/sugar mixture begins to steam, temper the eggs by adding small amounts of the hot milk to the egg yolks.

Begin whipping egg whites until glossy stiff peaks form starting on a low setting and building to high slowly. The meringue is perfect when the bowl can be inverted over your head while still remaining glossy.

Bring the custard to a rolling bowl, string constantly. Continually adjust the heat up and down to maintain a rolling boil, while not allowing the mixture to boil over. Boil for 10 minutes.

Remove from Heat.

Stir in vanilla. *I forgot to do it on the video, yikes but that makes it real life people!

Using a large spatula, push spoonfuls of meringue gently under the hot mixture to cook the egg. DO NOT WHISK.

After the mixture has cooled for about 30 minutes place in refrigerator to chill. After cooled cover with plastic wrap. Custard will keep about 4-5 days and is best with a bit of age.

Serve chilled in small demitasse cups.

YEILD: Makes approximately 40 Servings

My Great-grandmother's Recipe for Boiled Custard in her own hand.
My Great-grandmother's Recipe for Boiled Custard in her own hand.

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