I’m going to do all of the raynotbradbury Mystery Challenges this week! The third challenge is the recipe for a mystery dish (fancy). I chose banana pudding because of its potency as a Southern delight and because of the fiery passion Southern women defend their puddings with. Brian of BooksofBrian, here’s some reminiscing for you.
In true annoying-online-recipe fashion, I put my mom’s banana pudding recipe at the end of the story.
Every good Southerner who was raised in church, and many good Southerners who weren’t, has been to a church potluck or picnic. Backwoods as my family is, I was no exception.
Our church was a little white building off in a holler, on a flood plane next to a little creek, and didn’t have any space for eating. Many members believed, in fact, that having a fellowship hall or any permanent dining structure was selling out to the devil, so we instead elected to host all our potlucks and picnics up at the abandoned schoolhouse.
Each year, the ladies would hand around a pen and pad of paper. On it would be a list of traditional dishes and then a few blank spaces for people to bring something not listed. Required items included biscuits, fried chicken, corn on the cob (grilled), butterscotch meringue pie, pulled pork barbecue, green beans, and – without fail – banana pudding.
That slot, the banana pudding slot, was treated with extreme care. Garnering that sacred slot required a dance of social nicety the likes of which few if any truly understood. One couldn’t simply just take the banana pudding slot. It had to be left open, then fought over once everything else was taken. “Oh, it’s just so sad that I couldn’t make green beans, and instead I have to buy everything for banana pudding! Oh Lord save me!”
And then the slot was of course given to Mama Grace: the oldest matriarch, all around great-person, and a fantastic cook.
(My own grandmother was one of the ‘matriarchs,’ but that’s a very different story for a very different day.)
Evidently my mom, after having attended the church for about ten years, hadn’t gotten the memo. She saw the list and, this time, thought, “Hey, I found a good banana pudding recipe. I’ll do it.”
Whispers and gossip ran through the church. How dare my mom take away Mama Grace’s hallowed pudding duties? Why, that ungrateful minx!
Mama Grace, as well, wasn’t having it. She shoved her name down for banana pudding also, and the gauntlet had been thrown. The banana pudding cook-off had started. The dish that got eaten first at the picnic would be the one to take the slot next year.
Here’s the thing: only women and children cared one lick about who was the banana pudding chef. The adult men, who always went first through food lines by tradition among my family and church (backwards from the rest of the South, I gather), saw two equally good looking puddings. Those who went down the right side of the buffet table took mom’s pudding, those on the left took Mama Grace’s. No one seemed to notice a difference, especially not the women and children who picked through their scraps.
Mama Grace, however, could tell the difference. She declared hers the winner and, due to church politics, of course came out on top. My mom, being the person she is, was perfectly glad to have lost. She swore never to come between Mama Grace and a pudding ever again.
The recipe below is the one my mom brought to that fateful picnic. Mama Grace’s recipe will remain secret, since she took it to the grave with her in 2009.
|Ingredients:||2 boxes vanilla instant pudding|
|4 cups milk|
|1 cup sour cream|
|1 9 oz. container cool whip|
|Preheat:||No cooking necessary|
|Instructions:||Make pudding; fold in sour cream and cool whip. Layer with bananas and wafers. Chill. Best if you let it sit in the fridge overnight.|