This was a day that I had no choice on what to do. As soon as I realized what we were celebrating, I just knew what to do. Lola did too. I told her it was Banana Cream Pie Day, and she immediately said in a matter of fact tone,”so you’re making my mom’s recipe, right?” I was indeed. It was the only way to go.
I don’t think I ever tasted Gigi’s banana cream pie that was actually made by Gigi, Lola’s mom. She may not have made it for any of the holidays she hosted over the years that I knew her. She was usually busy making all the other stuff – the turkey, the roasts, the potatoes, the acorn squash, the whole caboodle. She probably didn’t have the time or energy to make a pie. She had other things to do plus other people were usually bringing the desserts. She would pick up an apple or pumpkin pie or some other sweet from Clements as a back up, just in case people came empty handed, but she wouldn’t spend too much time making desserts for the crew that would descend upon her home. She just fed them extremely well. I am sorry I missed out on this because her banana cream pie is so highly regarded as one of excellence. A pie she would serve with pride to happy faces who savored every last bite. A specially made homemade treat made with love by a special lady.
I mentioned this the other day, but after Gigi passed, Becky had given Lola a box of all of their Mom’s favorite recipes. Becky had gone through them all and transferred them to pretty index cards, laminated them and now Lola has a neat little collection of these classic recipes that are a small part of who Gigi was. The banana bread recipe is in this box, but the recipes for meatballs, meatloaf, chicken marsala and more are also inside. The banana cream pie recipe is in there too. A few years ago, we were getting ready for one of the holidays (I think it was Easter, but it could have been Thanksgiving or Christmas) and we were trying to think of what we could make to contribute to the dinner. Lola had been thinking of her Mom and decided to try to make her banana cream pie. It’s not an easy recipe. It takes patience and persistence, but Lola was game and it was a way for her to channel her Mom. Her first try went a bit awry and involved some scalded milk and a cream that had not thickened. But always the trooper, she scrapped the original and tried again. The second time she nailed it. It was nice and fluffy with piled high whipped cream. The banana cream was dense, sweet and tasty. She served it with pride for dessert and it was met with enthusiastic reviews and joy. Just seeing that pie on a table brought back memories of Gigi. Lola had brought her mom to dinner.
Lola has made it a few times since and it is always a fan favorite. This year when we were planning Thanksgiving dinner and deciding what to bring to Becky’s, our niece Wavy said that she hoped Lola was bringing her banana cream pie because it was her favorite. That of course melted Lola’s heart and naturally she made it again, much to Wavy’s delight. It’s still a tricky recipe and a lot of the confusion comes from the way it is written on the card. I’m sure when Gigi wrote it out she wasn’t planning to preserve the recipe for generations. She was only taking notes for herself so she would remember what to do when she was making the pie again. She was a fervent note taker. I’m sure the recipe made perfect sense to Gigi, but to someone else, there is some insufficient details. That’s why it’s been hard to make. However since she has made its few times, Lola, another fervent note taker, has added her own notes to the recipe to avoid any confusion. Gigi and Lola are collaborating now.
I’ve never made it, so this would be a first for me. The first thing I did was make the pie crust with graham crackers. The recipe for this is right on the box of graham crackers, so it’s pretty easy. When Lola makes the pie, she usually uses a pre-made pie shell for ease and I was going to do that too, however by making it myself, I saved myself a trip to the grocery store. It came together in no time – just graham crackers, sugar and butter mixed together and pressed into a pie pan. You cook it for about 8 minutes and it is done. The next step was the pie. Here’s the recipe I was working with:
I had Lola talk me through it. While the directions seemed a bit complicated, when Lola gave me her instructions, it seemed easier. I assembled my dry ingredients and I combined them with a beaten egg yolk and some milk. To that, I added some warm milk (three cups of warm milk) which I slowly stirred in while heating up the whole concoction. This is the time where you start to doubt yourself. At first, it didn’t look like it was combining in the right way but after steady stirring, it started to all come together. Then it didn’t look like it was thickening enough. I had Lola look at my progress and she said to keep going – give it time. So I kept it on the heat, stirring constantly and watching. I was worried about burning the milk too, so I kept a watchful eye. Suddenly it started to thicken. First it appeared as just some accumulation on the spoon I was stirring with, something dredged up from the bottom of the pan. But then the whole mixture really started to thicken. I turned down the heat a little but kept it cooking for another five minutes stirring all the way. When I took it off the heat, I dropped in some butter which melted in no time and stirred in some vanilla. Then I put it in the fridge to cool a bit. When it had cooled down sufficiently, I scooped it into the pie shell and topped it all with some thin banana slices. I then put it back in the fridge to cool completely.
I had to go out and get some heavy cream for the whipped cream topping, but at least the bulk of the pie was made now and it would have time to set up. While I was out I was able to drop off some PB Kiss Cookies to Tara and Becky. It always feels good to share the wealth of all our goodies (and it feels good to get them out of our house too). When I got home, I made the whipped cream. Lola was also the one who taught me how to make whipped cream and she learned that from her mom, so this pie was truly a Gigi recipe. Confectionary sugar and whipped cream beaten until you get the stiff peaks. Gigi’s note on whipped cream was to always put your mixing paddles and your bowl in the freezer prior to making the whipped cream so everything is nice and cold. I made a nice big batch and poured it on top of the pie. I spread it around and trying to make some peaks in the topping so it would look pretty. I ended up using a lot of whipped cream too – this pie was physically heavy to hold. In the end, it looked pretty good.
We had a slice later in the night as a little reward (after I finished making and posting my Cold Cuts Day video). It’s not an easy pie to cut because of the whipped cream, but I was able to get two pieces onto plates that looked reasonably enough like pie pieces. I thought it was spot on. The whipped cream was nice and sweet, the pie crust was crunchy and buttery and the banana cream was sweet with a good custard texture. The bananas gave it a nice hint of banana flavor but it was not the overwhelming taste. I thought I had done a good job, however I had not heard Lola’s verdict yet. She was taking her time and had not even taken a bite. But when she did, I got the approval I was looking for. She said I nailed it. My peaks in my whipped cream could have been a little stiffer (TWSS), but I blamed that on it having settled for so long in the fridge. I got her approval and I had made a truly great pie.
I think Gigi would have liked it too. She would like the fact that we hold her specialties in such high regard. She would be flattered by it and give us her shy unassuming smile knowing that she was a really, really good cook but playing coy when we raved about it. It would have been an honor and a joy to have served her a piece, maybe with a cup of coffee at her kitchen table. Lola would join her, and so would Wavy, although Wavy would opt for a cup of water as her beverage served in a Chip from Beauty and the Beast cup. I can almost hear the laughter that would come from that table. Someone would end up with whipped cream on their nose. Wavy would tell YaYa her jokes and the three would inevitably end up in a fit of laughter. They’d eat the pie and have a jolly good time. That’s why we treasure these recipes, because they are memories of happy moments together. It’s a tribute to a small part of a woman we knew who always fed us and took good care of us. Making these recipes remind us of her and how we wish she was still making them for us. So today was in honor of Gigi; may her wonderful pie always bring us joy as she always did.
Next Up: National Cold Cuts Day