As I have mentioned before, my sister and I are very different people. As a kid she was always the more quiet, introverted and shy one. I, on the other hand, reveled in being the center of attention, regularly spoke at a decibel that made others uncomfortable (and often still do) and was frequently described as a “bull in a china shop” on shopping trips with my mom. So I bumped into things…big deal!
As a goofy and loud little girl I played the role of annoying younger sister like a pro. In one particular incident Ashley subtly pointed out her teacher far across the grocery store parking lot loading her station wagon. Naturally this resulted in me screaming the woman’s last name – “HEY HARSHBARGER!” – and then diving behind a parked car. What a wonderful name to pelt across rows and rows of idle cars. Mrs. Harshbarger wheeled around to find Ashley standing red-faced and waving meekly. I remained pressed against the asphalt – giggling at my own genius.
But in true big sister fashion, she found smart and subversive avenues for revenge. Thanks to her, I once spent a long Wednesday night in the local pediatrician’s office with a specially-designed pair of tweezers in my left nostril. Earlier that evening, I sat at the dinner table endlessly amused as Ashley demonstrated how to shoot a pea out of her nose with the force of a cannon. As my parents retreated to the kitchen, I grew increasingly excited about the potential attention and laughs this trick would garner in the school cafeteria. I seized the opportunity and momentary lack of parental supervision to practice and shoved a bright green pea very far – too far – up my nose. No amount of huffing or puffing would dislodge the tiny green ammunition. (In my defense, kids must stick foreign objects up their noses at alarming rates to necessitate the design of a special extraction tool.)
These kinds of sibling-on-sibling battles occurred on a daily basis, as they do in most homes. The majority of the time, big sister trumped little sister no doubt thanks to the extra four years of wisdom and cunning she had on me. And that was OK with me because win or lose, I was just happy with my big sister’s attention.
For one reason or another, banana pudding reminds me of these adventures in sibling rivalry and kind-hearted abuse. Much like the Cheddar and Green Onion Bread, banana pudding is another every day flavor of my childhood. For a recent family cookout, I wanted to take this Southern classic and dress it up ever so slightly. I love Valerie Hill’s sophisticated but homey pie version served at Johnny’s Half Shell on Capitol Hill. I opted for fresh whipped cream in my iteration, as opposed to meringue, because the banana pudding of my childhood was always slathered with a heavy dollop of cloyingly sweet Cool Whip. Skip the fake whip and opt for the real deal – freshly whipped heavy cream with a touch of vanilla and lightly sweetened with confectioners sugar gets my vote now.
Banana Pudding Pie
Adapted from Valerie Hill’s recipe in The Washington Post
For the crust
2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
3 Tbs sugar
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
4 ripe bananas, thinly sliced
For the pastry cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
1/4 stick (1 ounce) unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the whipped cream
1.5 cups heavy cream
1 Tbs confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Dark chocolate for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready an ungreased 9-inch pie pan.
2. For the crust: Combine the crushed vanilla wafers, sugar and melted butter, and press into the pie pan. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes until golden brown. Place on a rack to cool completely.
3. For the pastry cream: In a large bowl, combine the sugar, salt and cornstarch. Add the egg yolks and whisk for about 30 seconds, until the mixture is lemon-colored and somewhat thickened.
4. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk until small bubbles begin to form around the sides. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually whisk 3 to 4 tablespoons of the warm milk into the yolk mixture to temper it. Whisk the tempered yolks back into the saucepan of milk. Return the pan to medium heat and continue whisking until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to boil. Pour the pastry cream into a bowl and fold in the butter and vanilla extract. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the pastry cream and refrigerate for 3 hours, or until it has completely chilled.
5. Place the bowl and whisk attachment of an electric mixer in the freezer until well chilled. Gently fold the sliced bananas into the pastry cream and pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell. Remove the chilled mixing bowl and whisk attachment from the freezer. Combine the heavy cream, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla in the bowl and mix on medium high speed until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream on the pie and garnish with dark chocolate shavings.