Banana Cream Pie was my mother's favorite pie. Not only did she love eating them, she loved making them as well. And she loved baking them for others. In fact, she was always baking cakes and pies for various members of the family and family friends for the holidays and special occasions. But the Banana Cream Pie was her favorite, and she had her reasons, even if one of them happened to be untrue...
As a child, I took note of the way my mother would always bake my grandfather two pies for his birthday and deliver them to him, often walking the quarter-mile that separated our house from his to present them to him by lunch or dinnertime. She loved her father dearly and it was one of the ways she could help him celebrate. And besides, it was something she felt they shared -- the enjoyment of the same type of pie. She would always bake him the same two pies each year: A Coconut Cream Pie and a Banana Cream Pie. They were both his favorites.
Or so she thought.
My grandparents moved to another state when I was teenager, so my mother didn't get to bake his birthday pies except for the few occasions when there was the happy coincidence of her visiting and his birthday falling within those days. It was on one of those occasions that she was telling one of her sisters that she used to make her dad's pies every year -- for about two decades -- on his birthday and she was happy to be doing so again. My grandfather, who was sitting nearby, asked her why she had decided to settle on the pies she had. With a look of surprise, my mother said that she made those particular types of pies because they were his favorites.
Grandfather simply laughed. Why, he told her, neither was his favorite pie. Grinning (he was always smiling about something, a man quick to joke), he told her his favorite pie was a simple Custard Pie.
My mother asked why he had never told her through all those years. She would have made his favorite -- in fact, she thought that was what she had been doing.
Grandfather's smile just got wider. No need for that, he said. I had nothing to complain about, he said. And it was the thought that truly counted. Besides, he told her, he was getting two great pies -- both flavors to his liking -- for his birthday.
She only got to make my grandfather a few more pies before he passed away. And she never deviated from the two types of pies. It became their little inside joke. But she loved to tell that story, about how she baked her father's favorite pie for him for half of his life (he would live to be nearly 90) without ever having done it once.
Sadly, my mother, too, is no longer with us. But the memory of her remains, as does the care and love she held for others, something most exemplified by her work in the kitchen. It was her way of taking care of those for whom she cared. And she always seemed most at ease and happiest while making cakes and pies for everyone.
So on National Banana Cream Pie Day, instead of going to the store and buying a pie in her memory, I'd just as soon make it myself.
Banana Cream Pie
9-inch Pie Shells (baked or graham cracker)
3 cups Whole Milk
3/4 cup White Sugar
1/3 cup All-purpose Flour
1/4 tsp Salt
3 Egg Yolks (slightly beaten)
2 Tsp Butter
1 tsp Vanilla
Prepare pie crust first. Then in a large saucepan, add milk and scald.
In separate pan, combine the sugar, flour and salt. Take milk and gradually stir into flour mixture. Over medium heat, stir constantly. Mixture will thicken. When thick, cover pan and cook for another two minutes, stirring on occasion.
Have the 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten, at the ready in a bowl. Take hot mixture and stir a small amount into the beaten yolks. After thoroughly combined, stir yolks into hot mixture. Cook for another minute longer, always stirring, then remove from heat. Blend butter and vanilla into the mix.
Let cool until lukewarm.
While mixture cools, slice bananas and place in the pie shell. When cooled, pour warm mixture into shell over bananas.
If desired, a meringue can be added as topping. You will still have 3 leftover egg whites, which can be used to top the pie.
Meringue Topping: Make certain none of the egg yolk is present in the egg whites you'll use. Let the whites set while preparing the Banana Cream Pie so they will warm to room temperature (better for beating). Use a completely clean and spotless tall glass or stainless steel bowl for beating as meringue is sensitive to moisture (plastic bowls can sometimes hold moisture or grease). Set your mixer to medium-high (hand-beating a meringue is a lot of work) and allow beaters to work until whites become foamy and the beaters make crests or tips in the foam when removed. Meringues can be made harder by continuing to run mixer. Add fine granulated sugar (about a quarter cup per egg white) to sweeten (only do this at the end of process or making meringue will take considerably longer). Add finished topping to pie.
Or you can do it a bit quicker by using Jell-O brand Banana Cream Instant Pudding & Pie Filling (my mother loved the stuff). Just follow the simple directions on the package. (Pudding takes about 5-10 minutes, but cooling of the pie takes about an hour for best tasting results).
So I'm going to have a slice of homemade Banana Cream Pie in memory of my mother. And in this way, she and I can share a small joke over a piece of pie as well. You see, Banana Cream Pie isn't my favorite, either.
(photo: Brenna, Creative Commons)