My mother hated to cook.
She was a good cook when it came to things she liked—rice, chicken, all kinds of soul food and sweet desserts—and a bad cook for things she didn’t understand or eat. For years, I thought steak was supposed to be tough like shoe leather and chewier than gum. I thought spaghetti and taco meat were supposed to be soupy. Basically, she was kind of annoyed that this was her job. “What do you want for dinner” often meant “what’s the fastest and easiest thing to cook?”
Honestly, you couldn’t blame her.
My mother and I have very similar personalities, and, I too, would have bristled at this being my “job” when you’re intellectually curious, college-educated and mentally quite rigorous. One of my mother’s and my favorite past-times was reading the newspaper aloud to each other while looking up words we might not have recognized in the dictionary, dissecting definitions. Our other favorite activity? Going to the library to get books.
I know, I know. We were nerds.
But we were glorious, joined at the hip nerds who could talk from sun up to sun down about any and everything, just as she’d done with her own mother before me. We were a team.
While the cooking was hit-or-miss, my mother, who was a stay-at-home mom and former school teacher, was an expert at the other domestic arts that didn’t involve pots or pans.
She could sew and she could crochet and she could clean to the point where you could safely eat off the floor, any floor, in our home. She was great at doing hair and an excellent braider, a skill neither myself nor my sisters really cultivated. But other than some weak allusions to needing a maid (ha, like she’d ever trust a stranger to clean her home), cooking was the only thing she seemed to really not give two shits about. Still, every now and then, Mama would really shine at something in the kitchen, and holidays were where she would show out. Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas were delicious feasts, and in the summertime, Juneteenth was no different. She had a tangy potato salad I’ve yet to see replicated well by anyone other than my father, and the dessert of choice? Banana Pudding.
Anyone who knows me well, like my family or close friends, knows I love food. I probably love it too much, considering my waistline. I also enjoy cooking so much I started a food insta, and banana pudding—something I’ve only undertaken twice more than a decade ago—is my second favorite dessert, right behind peach cobbler. They’re both desserts I never tire of and could literally eat after every meal until I die from, hopefully, old age.
For Juneteenth this year, I’ve decided I’m going to make a banana pudding. Unfortunately, my lovely mother who was an expert at banana puddings was diagnosed with dementia around 2013 and died December 2018, so I have no one to really point me in the right direction. My father, an excellent cook in his own right, was of little help when I asked him if he knew where Mama’s banana pudding recipe was.
“Just google it,” he said.
Then, he gave this advice: “As long as you have some good bananas you’ll be all right.”
So since I’m still afraid of getting COVID-19, I ordered some bananas for delivery. Now for a good banana pudding that lasts, you need bananas that are firm and have just freshly turned yellow because they will start to go bad pretty fast even if they are in the fridge if they’re too ripe. Buuuuut if you have a very green banana, it might go bad before it ever turns yellow, making it useless. Both my grocery delivery services sent me, by far, the greenest bananas I’ve ever seen in life. Like, bananas so green they look like they should still be on the tree. Meaning, at some point, I’m going to have to put on a mask and actually walk around the corner to the grocery store, get in line, and purchase them in person.
Which I’m dreading!
But I’m going to do it because my soul and the ancestors demand that I make banana pudding to honor them (and my belly) for Juneteenth.
So if you want to possibly screw up one of the easiest desserts to make by jacking up the homemade vanilla custard with me, here’s the recipe I’m going to try, as my dad is not interested in digging through the various recipe books and disorganized recipe cards in the home he shared with my mom. I promise to update this post with my progress, whether I succeed or not.
Because in cooking, the adventure of it is half the fun—unless you’re my mom. Then it’s just, like, the shackles of the patriarchy keeping you from fulfilling your dreams of having someone, anyone else cook.
Update: 10:22 a.m. EDT, June 20, 2020: Success! The banana pudding was made and it was...delicious!