Banana pudding ain’t what it used to be

Do you remember banana pudding? I’m not talking about what is now called banana pudding, but the real kind. The kind Grandmama used to make for dessert on Sunday. There was none of this instant vanilla pudding poured over vanilla wafers and sliced bananas with no meringue on top She wouldn’t have served that to the dogs.

She’d make the rich, yellow custard on the stove in the double boiler. It was flavored with vanilla extract, not vanilla flavoring. There’s a difference, you know.

olivia6-25 Page 4A.inddShe used the eggs from Rhode Island Red hens, the ones with dark yellow yolks, almost to the point of being orange.

The egg white would be beaten into stiff, sugary peaks, then spread over the top of the casserole dish she used to put into the oven.

Once the pudding was popped into the oven, we’d wait for the golden brown to appear on top of the peaks of sweetened meringue. Then the whole thing would come out to wait for us to return from church.

Since she left this earth for a better location, I’ve never tasted another banana pudding that can match the ones she made on a fairly regular basis.

As a small child, I’d drag a kitchen chair close to the stove to stand on — first to watch what she did, and later to stir. She’d let me beat the egg yoks and stir in the hot mixture from the double boiler. She’d let me carefully measure the vanilla and pour it into the pot at the end of the process.

I learned so many things in that kitchen. Some of those things to do with cooking were taught when I was so small I don’t remember learning them. But that information is up there stored for when it’s needed .

She taught me how to tell when the biscuits were ready. Not by the hands on the clock, but by the scent coming from the oven. I learned when it was time to turn the fried chicken and how to judge when the cream had been whipped long enough.

I learned to mix the dry ingredients together first when making a cake and how to properly line a tube cake pan when making a pound cake.

And when the long, elaborate, labor-filled processes of preparing all the fruit for the fruit cake was done and when it was baked and brought from the oven, she taught me how to cool it until it could be removed from the pan and how to store it in a round cake tin, wrapped in a clean dish towel with homemade wine dribbled over the top for moisture.

I treasure the old recipes she wrote out in the beautiful script effortlessly flowing from her pen. I never saw her use a ballpoint pen, but only the old fountain pens she kept filled with ink.

If the recipe was given to her by one her circle members, she’d make a careful note at the top saying, “Mrs. McKellar’s recipe for fresh apple cake.” If there was another source, she’d always note it, as when she found something she liked in an old cookbook. I have her old recipe with the title, “Rumford cookbook lemon meringue pie.”

Her hand-turned egg beater still hangs on a hook inside a kitchen cabinet. I have an electric mixer and use it for many things. But for small jobs, like meringue, I enjoy the old wooden-handled beater with the wooden knob on the crank.

Sometimes the handwritten recipes bear stains from the many times they were used in that old kitchen.

There has never been a Thanksgiving that her old roasting pan isn’t brought out for our turkey. And never a time now, when I’m cooking one of her special dishes, that I don’t feel her presence in my kitchen.

I miss her to this day and cannot calculate the extent of the influence she wielded in our lives. The lessons she taught go far outside the bounds of that old kitchen. We’ve all unconsciously passed down her life lessons to our own children, and now they in turn are spreading that legacy to future generations. And all because not all the lessons learned from her were about how to cook.