Banana Pudding

7.17.10 § 12 Comments

For the past two weeks, I’ve been vacillating between feelings of terror, depression, and elation.  Why the seesawing emotions?  Just over two weeks ago, I found out I was losing my job.  I won’t go into the whole sordid tale of how, after eight months as a temp who was motivated by the belief that hard work would lead to a full-time position, that position (when finally created) was given to someone else—because that would just be too frustrating to talk about.  Instead, I’ll tell you how I decided to cope:  pudding.

I guess pudding itself wasn’t what made me feel better.  Rather, it was the inspiration behind the pudding, which was Maya Angelou.  I know, very random.  Let me explain.  I have a cookbook written by her that includes both stories and recipes from her life.  As I whisked custard into egg yolks, I couldn’t help but think of the satisfaction Maya Angelou felt when she made one particular batch of banana pudding.  “Why was she satisfied?” you ask.  Gather, children…I’ll tell you a story.

Well, to start, she was in love with a man.  (Isn’t that how trouble usually starts?)  She was rather young and new to the love game, but on the same two days each week, she’d go to his apartment to spend time with him.  One fateful afternoon, she decided to stop by on a different day of the week than usual, and she ran into a much older woman leaving his apartment.  The woman mentioned that they must have gotten their days mixed up before she breezed out the front door.  You’re shocked, right?  I know.  I was too.

The man she was seeing told her to grab a fork, sat her down, and put a plate of banana pudding in front of her.  He explained that once a month, Daphne brought him banana pudding.  “You look all stove up like you’re mad.  Wait now, I never promised you anything and I’m going to be with Daphne as long as she’ll have me.  So just wipe that stupid look off your face.”

She doesn’t remember being mad.  Rather, Maya looked down at her plate and noticed that it was poorly made: custard weeping pure water, bananas browning from exposure, and soggy vanilla wafers.  In that moment, she did what any self-respecting woman would do.  Without a word, she stood up and walked out.  And on her way home?  She stopped at the supermarket to collect ingredients for a batch of banana pudding.

No, my situation is not exactly the same as Maya’s, but when I think about how Maya might have felt that day, I’m pretty sure I can imagine it:  Initial shock gives way to indignation.  Then comes the anger at her own naïveté.  This soon transforms into a feeling of great resolve to do more for herself than that man ever could.  Then, a great sigh of satisfaction when she tastes that damned good banana pudding.  And finally, a wave of relief that comes with the realization that she’ll be much better off without him.

“Hurt Me Banana Pudding”
from Hallelujah! The Welcome Table

sugar (1/3 cup, 1/4 cup, and 3 tbsp)
1/3 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
3 cups milk
8 eggs, separated
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups vanilla wafer cookies
4 ripe bananas, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large saucepan, combine 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, and salt.  Stir until blended and then stir in milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and boiling.  Boil for one minute and remove from heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks.  Whisk in about 1/2 cup of the hot custard until blended (you can eyeball this, no need to measure).  Pour yolk mixture back into custard in saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, for two minutes.  Stir in butter and vanilla until blended and remove from heat.

Place half the vanilla wafers on the bottom of a shallow two-quart casserole.  Top with a layer of banana slices and a layer of custard.  Repeat the layering, ending with a layer of custard.

Using an electric or hand mixer, beat egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar on low speed until frothy.  Add cream of tartar; increase speed to medium and gradually bet in remaining 3 tbsp sugar.  Beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.

Immediately spoon meringue over the hot custard, being sure the meringue touches the baking dish on all sides.  (By doing it while the custard is still hot, you reduce sweating between the two layers.  By making sure it touches all the sides, you make sure the meringue doesn’t shrink in the oven.)  Transfer the casserole to the oven and bake until golden, about 20 minutes.  Make sure that if your oven cooks unevenly you rotate halfway through.  Remove from oven and cool 1 hour.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

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§ 12 Responses to Banana Pudding

  • Mara says:

    Hahah I love this post.

  • mindy says:

    this looks *wonderful*! i’m adding it to my to-cook list. there really aren’t even that many ingredients considering the multiple layers and how beautiful the finished product looks.

    i’m so sorry to hear about your job 😦 the world just isn’t fair sometimes. or remotely logical. but it still sucks to experience the unfairness. if it makes you feel at all better, i’m studying for the bar exam and thus having the worst summer of my life. best of luck on your job search!

  • Ian Knauer says:

    That looks really good! And, you’ll find something even better for work. If not, you could open a banana pudding stand and make millions.

    • tyla says:

      I may have to start working on that idea…I’m wondering if I could join forces with the little girls who sell iced tea on my street…

  • wow tyla, i’m very sorry to hear about your job. 😦 what a wonderful piece, though, despite the shock and sadness. are you looking for something new? in the meantime, you could market your blog like whoa, post all the time, and become faaaamous, right? 🙂

    • tyla says:

      Haha, I’m just waiting for a book deal…but yes, I am looking for something new – looks like I may take an unpaid internship in Restaurant PR…but nothing’s for sure yet. Keeping fingers crossed that something comes along!

  • gin says:

    Yet another thing added to my make-when-I-get-home list. Great post. This book sounds amazing!

    Make kickass pudding and bask in your own-girl-ness. I love you!

  • Shady says:

    I’m sorry to hear about the job! Believe me, I know how you feel, having supported my first year in new york with a couple of temp jobs, none of which have gone term (the word overqualified is starting to make me gag). I’ve never been much of a pudding person, but I do enjoy comfort food (which I’ve needed a lot in this past year) and this post has certainly encouraged me to give it a try.

  • I hope that you are cool.

    And your banana pudding and story rocks. So much that I want to remember this recipe.

  • Gabby says:

    Such a good post! Seriously. Kelly would make you read this out loud (twice), and then she would frame it for future classes to see. You took something not fun (I’m sorry to hear about your job) and made it a fantastic (and also delicious) piece of writing.

    Do you think if I had frozen bananas I could still be able to make this? I’ve actually never tried making anything with bananas I put in the freezer…

    • tyla says:

      Haha, I thought of her as I wrote and rewrote and rewrote it….

      I don’t see why you couldn’t use frozen bananas if you let them thaw completely first…but that question is really beyond my kitchen knowledge. If you try it, let me know how it goes!

  • ileana says:

    That is a great story. I’ve never heard of Maya’s book with recipes.
    Oh, and I feel you on the job thing. After graduating college, I finished a 9-month internship without getting the full-time job I’d expected. A real bummer, but I realized life was not at all over.

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