Canned Fruit Custard


Cherries in custard sauce in stemmed glassesSometimes it is a challenge to make a recipe in an old cookbook. The cookbook may make assumptions about the knowledge level of the cooks who will use the cookbook that totally miss the mark when it comes to modern cooks; or one recipe may refer to another recipe which might then refer to still another.

For example,  I recently found a hundred-year-old recipe for Canned Fruit Custard that at first appeared very simple – Make a thin (soft) custard and pour it over drained canned fruit. But there was just one problem; the cookbook did not contain a recipe for thin custard. Apparently cooks were just supposed to know how to make thin custard.

Recipe for Canned Fruit Custard
Source: The Cook Book for Left-Overs (1920) Compiled by The More Nurses in Training Movement (Illinois)

Unfortunately I  am not as knowledgeable as cooks a hundred year ago, and didn’t know how to make a thin (soft) custard, so I searched through other old cookbooks for a recipe. I finally found a soft custard recipe in a 1920 home economics textbook.

soft custard recipe
Source: School and Home Cooking (1920) by Carlotta Greer

All was good, but I then was surprised to discover that I needed to find still another recipe. The Soft Custard recipe said to “mix the materials in the same way as for steamed or baked custard.”

Steamed or Baked Pudding Recipe
Source: School and Home Cooking (1920) by Carlotta Greer

Whew, this was getting complicated. After I found all three recipes, I took a stab at synthesizing all the directions, I finally made Canned Fruit Custard using canned sweet dark cherries. The dessert was lovely, with the cherries coated with a creamy, slightly sweet custard sauce, but the whole process has left me feeling drained.

So that others don’t need to go through the process of synthesizing the recipes, here is the Canned Fruit Custard recipe updated for modern cooks.

Canned Fruit Custard

  • Servings: 4 - 5
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

2 pints canned fruit (15-16 ounce cans) – I used canned dark sweet cherries.


2 eggs, separated

2 cups milk

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To make the custard, first scald the milk. To do this, put the milk in a heavy sauce pan (use a double boiler if available); then heat using medium heat. Stir frequently until the milk just barely begins to bubble, then remove from the heat.

In a bowl beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks slightly, then add sugar and salt. Beat to combine. Then place a small amount (approximately 1 – 2 tablespoons) of hot milk into bowl with the egg mixture, stir quickly. Add this mixture to the hot milk and stir. (This helps prevent the egg from coagulating when the egg is introduced to the hot liquid.)  Return to stove and cook, using medium heat while stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken or coat a spoon. Quickly stir in the beaten egg whites. Remove from heat. Strain and then stir in the vanilla. Chill at least 3 hours.

To Serve

Drain canned fruit. Put the fruit in dessert dishes, and spoon the soft custard over the fruit.

77 thoughts on “Canned Fruit Custard

  1. In college I studied in England for a term and this dessert was a staple in the cafeterias on campus. I rather liked it then, but had no idea it was so labor-intensive to make. Still, for old times sake, I might try this.

    1. Maybe this is more of an English dessert than a U.S. one. You should give this recipe a try. The custard really didn’t take that long to make once I found the recipe – though it’s always a bit tricky making a successful custard without burning the bottom or getting lumps (though the directions to strain after cooking solved the issue of lumps).

  2. Well done synthesizing! I wonder if a similar result could be had by adding more liquid to a standard vanilla pudding recipe (even a box mix??). But good for you for plowing through with diligence and perseverance!

    1. I also wondered whether it would work to make using boxed pudding mix, but with extra milk. I also think that it would be tasty to just make the pudding mix using the standard amount of milk and pour it over the canned fruit before it thickens – though that would be a slightly different dessert since the consistency would be different.

      1. In South Africa, I would buy boxed custard that poured; it came in a box like the containers of long-life shelf milk, and we poured it over cake, fruit, etc. I thought it unusual when I first encountered it there, but my friends saw it as routine.

        1. It’s fascinating to learn about this custard option. As a result of doing this post, I’ve realized that other countries have a variety of interesting custard products that aren’t readily available in the U.S.

  3. Thanks for going to so much trouble for us. The dessert sounds lovely.

    This seems a lot like the standard topping for many English desserts. My daughters went to English schools for two years. They said custard was served over almost every sweet. In the supermarket, a standard item was Byrd’s custard powder.

      1. I started to write that I was glad that this post brought back warm memories – but I quickly realized that comment didn’t make any sense. I know you well enough realize that you didn’t always like school dining hall foods. 🙂

    1. This is really interesting. I’ve never been to England, and hadn’t realized that custards were very popular in there. Maybe the author of this recipe was of English descent.

    1. I really liked the taste of the home-made custard. It is light and delicate, since it doesn’t contain any corn starch (which boxed custard mixes typically contain).

      1. I can just imagine it tastes so good! (Cornstarch brings to mind ‘extender’ and ‘shortchanged’, lol). Thanks for inspiring, Sheryl–home-made custard will be in my projects list. Cheers! 🙂

  4. While I love custard, I loved your description of the process most of all! I hope you have recovered from the exertion, but it made a fun tale when you were done. I also noted that the steamed recipe called for 2 or 3 eggs. I suppose it had to do with the size of the egg.

    1. It’s wonderful to hear that you enjoyed this post. I used two eggs when I made the recipe, though your comment makes me think that I should research average egg size a hundred years ago as compared with the size of a “large” egg today. Hmmm. . . maybe this is a future post idea.

    1. Until you and others commented on this post, I had no idea that custard was popular in England. I learn so much from my readers. This is one of the reasons I love blogging.

  5. it is so interesting to think that back-in-the-day it was just expected that woman knew how to make certain recipes………it makes sense, as everything was made at home! 🙂 love your blog.

    1. Many homemakers a hundred years ago made three meals a day, 365 days a year – and they became very skilled at cooking and making common foods. Thanks for the kind words about this blog. It’s wonderful to hear when someone enjoys it.

  6. This reminds me of a conversation around the table recently. Each of the cooks started in on a favorite way to do a dish, and all of a sudden my husband pipes up “You are speaking a foreign language!” Glad you got the custard to your liking : )

  7. I don’t think I’ve ever had canned (or tinned as we’d call it) fruit and custard before. When I was a child, my Nan would give me tinned peaches with evaporated milk! Now there’s a memory!

  8. I would have thought pouring thin custard over the canned fruit would be the obvious part and the way to make thin custard the part needing explicit instructions. There I go being modern again…

    1. My thoughts exactly. At first I thought that maybe commercially canned fruits may have been a new food a hundred years ago – but then I googled the history of canned fruit, and found a wikipedia article on canning which made it sound like canned fruits were widely available since the latter part of the 1800s in the U.S., so it apparently wasn’t a novelty. So I’m still unclear why the recipe included such explicit directions about the canned fruit part of the recipe, and so little detail about the custard part.

      1. Perhaps the human behavior of “This is novel to me, so it must not be widely known and therefore I need to ‘educate’ everyone I meet on this new concept’ has withstood the test of time as well as custard 😉

    1. The glasses are some type of vintage etched glassware. (The etching doesn’t show much on the picture). I’m not up on my glassware, but I think that it may be called a coupe glass – and that back in the day, this type of glassware may have been used to serve champagne or sherbet. I believe this may be about the same thing as a margarita glass just an older name.

  9. Not sure I’d have the patience (and I’m on a low fat diet now anyway), but it looks lovely! 🙂

    Off topic: how do you do the ‘print’ thing on your recipe?

  10. Wow. That was a lot of effort to figure out a recipe that was 2 sentences long! I inadvertently made this using instant pudding. I had an old box and made it but it didn’t want to set up. Ended up eating it over some fruit. I was disappointed but reading this I don’t feel so bad!

  11. I agree with the assumption of basic knowledge of things like this and bechamel, etc. I try to keep in mind the basic pantry items that were in most households. One thing I found is that when making something delicate like a custard, having a gas stove definitely gave me an edged over an electric.

    1. You’re absolutely right. I also thought about whether people typically had less variety in their pantries than what they do now. (I couldn’t decide whether they had less variety or more back then. They probably had fewer spices, but maybe more types of canned fruit.) Your comment makes me wish that I had a gas stove. 🙂

  12. Liked the ideas they gave along with the canned fruit. I can imagine that it would work for fresh fruit as well like strawberries, blueberries, especially if a little cake was added on the bottom, then custard with the fruit sliced on top… your photo is nicely done

  13. Thanks for doing the sleuthing for us. I don’t know if I have the technical skills to make this. Making the custard on the stove sounds intimidating! 🙂

  14. I enjoyed hearing your process of researching and investigating this recipe, Sheryl. Interesting that the original cookbook you consulted did not have a recipe for thin custard. In today’s cookbooks, we are spoiled with the assurance that whatever isn’t provided for in the original recipe, will be referenced and provided elsewhere in the book. I have always found custards a bit tricky, cooking eggs can quickly turn into scramblers. I use Ina Garten’s simplest-yet recipe: let Vanilla Bean ice cream melt, which is essentially Crème anglaise, and then pour it over fruit.

    1. I agree that custards can be a bit tricky. One thing I liked about the custard recipe I found was that it called for straining the custard after it was cooked. This eliminated any issues with lumps. I learned something new from reading your comment. I love the suggestion of using melted Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. It would be much easier than making the custard.

    1. I don’t think that they sell Bird’s around here. Your comment (and the comments of several others) about Bird’s makes me want to look specifically for it (or maybe buy a can online). It sounds very convenient.

        1. Thanks for explaining. I obviously knew very little about this product. It’s interesting how different products are readily available in different regions and countries.

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