How We Eat: Banana Pudding, Banoffee Pie, Songs, and Stretchy Ice Cream

PicMonkey banana pud shoofly

The title is a mouthful:  a delicious, caloric mouthful.  Inspired by a delicious and caloric, if somewhat stressful, week of cakes and puddings at our house.  An actual storm is sitting out in the Gulf, on our doorstep, and making vague threats, while the figurative storm of finding your bearings in a new environment is battering us around quite handily.  Under the circumstances, why not fatten our bodies and spirits for the fight, right?  Cakes and Ale is a fine battle strategy, I say.  Anyhoo, on with the post. . .

When I was young, my mother used to sing a song that would make us giggle and make us hungry at the same time: “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, make your eyes light up and your tummy say ‘howdy.'”  Silly.  I’ve never had Apple Pan Dowdy, but I can imagine the cobbler-like creation with no problem.  Shoofly Pie is harder to conjure.  Obviously sweet and sticky– a fly magnet (yuck!)– but the closest thing I can picture is a chess pie, and I don’t think that’s exactly right.  Which brings me to stretchy ice cream.  What, you’ll ask, is that?  A Floridian taffy-ice cream hybrid?  An over-cooked custard that makes a chewy ice cream?  No and no.  I’m thinking of Turkish Dondurma– an ice cream made with wild orchid extracts and salep ( a milky Turkish drink containing orchids).

Dondurma doesn’t taste of orchids, it comes in many flavors.  My favorite was banana.

Image from website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/
Image from wikicommons and website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/

I only discovered dondurma toward the end of our life in Turkey, which is a shame because it is silky and delicious . . . and stretchy.  That doesn’t really affect the taste, but it makes for a great parlor trick.  Dondurma is often served in a dramatic way, dished out with a paddle and wrapped around your cone, only to be pulled back at the last moment.  The Turks love a laugh and good food, so why not marry the two?

I’ve been thinking about Dondurma lately.  August in Florida will bring out all of your ice cream fantasies, believe me.  But this week, I’m remembering Banana Dondurma while making a traditional Banana Pudding for my children.  A REAL Banana Pudding– no instant pudding and cool whip.  Ugh.  A silky homemade custard is the only way to go, people.

My mother made this Banana Pudding for us growing up, and I’m pretty sure that her mother made it too.  I’m printing the recipe at the end of this post.  It’s simple and satisfying, and I like it best when it’s still a tad warm (but I know people who only like it cold, so this is clearly a matter of personal taste).

Photo from myrecipes.com--sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!
Photo from myrecipes.com–sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!

Like all recipes for BP, this one layers Vanilla Wafers, banana slices, and pudding.  Like all the best recipes for BP, this one features a homemade pudding of milk/cream, eggs, and sugar– with a splash of vanilla tossed in after the pudding thickens.  Believe me, you’ll be licking the mixing spoon after making this one.  (And, as I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I could use this pudding, with banana and wafer bits thrown in to churn up a really delicious–though certainly un-stretchy– ice cream.  I’m going to try this soon and get back to you.)

Banana Pudding is a staple of the American South, a time-tested comfort food, welcome around any pot luck or picnic table.  Why is it Southern?  I have no idea.  It goes well with bourbon?  (There are worse theories.)   If you want a primer on the treat and its history, I’d suggest you read the article posted on the SeriousEats website– an interesting and remarkably in-depth read.  If you’re here for the yummy, not the history, feel free to skip the article, fast forward to my recipe, and judge for yourself.

But not before you consider Banoffee Pie.  It deserves a mention in a travel and culture blog, because what Banana Pudding is to the American South, Banoffee Pie seems to be to Brits.  A perfect comfort food, a sweet banana dessert that pops up everywhere.

photo from commons.wikimedia.org
photo from commons.wikimedia.org

“Banoffee” you say?  Yes– bananas, cream, and toffee.  BAN. OFFEE.

Although it’s a British staple, it’s not one of those long-standing English recipes that dates back to the middle ages (think mincemeat pie).  No– bananas weren’t easy to come by before modern times.  Still, you find it in so many homes, on so many menus, and in endless incarnations these days. Nigella Lawson has a great looking Banoffee Cheesecake recipe, as well a Chocolate Banoffee recipe.  There are Banoffee sundaes and cupcakes and pastries.  If you can think up a twist to banoffee pie, it’s out there.

I have nibbled at Banoffee creations, but haven’t perfected my own version, so I’ll encourage you to find your own recipe.  If you already have the perfect recipe, feel free to share it with me!

* * *

moveable feastI’ll leave you with my pudding recipe and a final thought on comfort food.  On how we eat.  I love sugar, and I love rich puddings, and I love sharing these things with family.  But it’s not just the yumminess, and it’s not just the hospitality, it is the comfort that gets me this week– the ritual of sharing this favorite family recipe. Hemingway spoke of Paris as a moveable feast–a joy and light and influence, a wealth of experiences–that stays with you wherever you go.   Whether or not we have Paris, we all have a storehouse of moveable feasts.

This week, Banana Pudding is my moveable feast.  The world is spinning a bit fast for me, the Gulf is churning a bit violently, but I have my pudding (a tad warm yet) and I have my children with their spoons at the ready . . . and I find that I have a feast of friends around this table — I have my grandmother’s cooking, my mother’s singing, my Turkish ice cream man, and my British bakery, and I sit in the company of these fine things and dig in to my bowl, and I know, with a quiet conviction, that the world will be right soon enough.

*Ba’s BANANA PUDDING

  • For the custard: 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons flour, dash of salt, 1 whole egg, 3 egg yolks (save the whites), 2 cups of milk.
  • Cook this in a medium saucepan over a low heat until it thickens.  Then take it off the stove and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Layer vanilla wafers and banana slices; pour some custard over the top; then repeat these layers.
  • For meringue topping: beat the 3 egg whites, gradually adding up to 1/4 cup of sugar (and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, if you wish).  Bake this until browned (at 400 degrees, or using the broiler).
  • Enjoy!

 

 

Gooseleg, Dumplings, and Cabbage: Perfection in Prague

Our first night in Prague began with a fabulous dinner at Hostinec U Kalicha:  “The Chalice Inn.”  DSC_0118The restaurant had been recommended by the bartender at our hotel, and we arrived later at night on Monday night. (My camera stamp says it was Sunday night, but I could have sworn it was Monday–you know, travel time exists in a fuzzy space–who can say exactly what day it was?)   Anyhoo, the restaurant was busy enough to feel welcoming and cozy,  but not too busy to be very relaxing.   It had the atmosphere of an old European beer hall, in the best possible way.

DSC_0117Not long after we sat down, we had our first taste of the wandering accordion player and bassoonist.  They would come through and play a song, then disappear back into the kitchen for a while, only to reappear in fifteen minutes or so and offer another song.  (Perhaps they were also our chefs–running back to cook between songs?  Perhaps they were just enjoying a tall Czech Pilsner between sets?)   They were very good and added so much atmosphere to the dinner.

DSC_0112

Another nice touch–the folksy art drawn on the walls.  It relates to Svejk stories–soldier stories to come out of the First World War.

DSC_0106 DSC_0107

 

The owner was friendly and eager to talk to us about Czech food.  Our waitress was a bit harried, but all was forgiven when she brought us the most delicious plates of food.  What did everyone else order?  Who knows!  I was so enamoured of my dinner that everything else after that plate arrived is a blur.  I had goose leg, dumplings, and cabbage–a perfect, crispy gooseleg, bread dumplings that are a Czech specialty, and cabbage that was fantastically tangy and sweet all at once.

So, the only thing I forgot to get a photo of?  The gooseleg, dumplings, and cabbage!  And there’s the testament to a good meal:  you don’t think about taking photos of it, you don’t ruminate on blogposts to come,  you just inhabit the moment.

It was a very fine moment.

Making the Best of the Wurst

wurst

Recently, another blogger I follow took note of the Germans’ penchant for pork.  Took issue with it, really.  And, while I think taking aim at another cultures’ tastebuds is a thorny undertaking at best, I do feel a little sympathy for other people who are swine-averse in Germany.  There’s no easy way to steer clear of  the pig when in the Palatinate.

And I should know.  I am not a sausage eater.  I don’t mind the aroma, the spice, the bite of garlic or pepper–those are all fabulous…seductive, even.

Not sure I like the idea of sausage, but sausage is not really one of those things anyone should think too closely about, so that’s not the problem.

I’m just allergic to pork.  So I avoid it.  No biggie.  Up to this point in my life, there have always been lots of options.  In the South, I go to BBQ joints and order shredded chicken or beef.  I take a pass on bologna, and I feel no great loss.   However,  in the land of beer and brats, you find yourself adrift on a sea of sausage… absolutely schwimming in schwine.

The boys in my family think this is fabulous, and I won’t contradict them.  But it does make for some awkward moments for me.  I feel funny always asking what’s in a dish that I don’t recognize–it feels a little high maintenance.  And, since my German is very rudimentary, I often don’t understand the answers I get back.  So there’s a lot of just steering clear–taking the widest path around anything that might possibly contain pork.

en.wikipedia.org, weisswurst
en.wikipedia.org, weisswurst

Which knocks out a lot of things in Germany.  (I thought my Ritter chocolate bar smelled slightly bacony the other day…but I ate it anyway, and I’m still standing.)

So here’s the plan:   Germany may be a swine-fest 24/7, but it’s also a chocolate and pastry and spatzle fest, so I will not suffer (although my waistline might).   My household will savor all that Germany has to offer by the age old “Jack Spratt technique.”  What I won’t eat (pork), my husband will relish; what he will only nibble around the edges (pastries), I will greedily gobble.  You’ll recognize us if you sit nearby at a restaurant:  we’ll be the people who’ve licked our platter clean.

Guten appetit!

 

A little sampler of facts about German Wurst:

*A wurst is a German or Austrian sausage–it is not necessarily made of pork, although pork is the most frequent ingredient.

*Wurst is sold both raw and cooked; it can be sold as a sausage or as cold cuts.

*If you happen to be near New Braunfels, Texas, you can go to the Wurstfest in November.  It bills itself as “the best 10 days in sausage history”–the best of the wurst.  Or the wurst at its best.  And then, later, you can confuse people by saying, “I was once in Texas and had the best wurst.”   ?!    The Pocanos also advertise a Wurst fest, complete with Polka Bands, Bavarian dancing, Lederhosen, and hotdog races.   The wurst at its worst best wurst …whatever.   Chicago also has a three day Wurst fest.  (This begs for a windy city joke, but I’m trying to be mature.)

*Bad Durkheimer, Germany (in the Pfalz, which is part of the Rhineland-Palatinate and close to where I live) has a Wurstmarkt wine and wurst festival in September.  Part of the national Oktoberfest fervor, but with wine. (And, I’m told, the wine is served in half-liter sized glasses, like beer.  Ouch.)  The Durkheimer Wurstfest is famous for being the biggest winefest in Germany.    It bills itself as a nearly 600 year old festival.  (The flyer should read “the best 570 years in sausage history”–that would show Texas!)  

Bad Durkheimer
Bad Durkheimer

 

*Apparently, there are over 1,500 types of wurst available in Germany. It can be found on a German table at any time of day or night.  It is the subject of festival and poetry.  (Well, if Robert Burns can write a poem about Haggis, then sausage is certainly fair game!)    

* Holzhausen, Germany boasts the Deutsches Bratwurstmuseum–yes, a wurst museum– which houses documents that can date the beginning of wurst  from the year 1404.   So there you go; plan your pilgrimage now. 

 

**If this is the wurst post ever, I apologize.  Consider the subject.