Making a Southern/Appalachian Staple in West Africa: Banana Pudding

For many who grew up in the Appalachian mountains or the southern parts of the United States, they would be well acquainted with a dessert that decorated every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Baptist congregation luncheon table: Banana pudding. 

Often consisting of familiar ingredients:

Vanilla wafers (in their familiar bright yellow box, often nestled suggestively beside the bananas in the fruit section of the grocery store. No other cookie dared enter that sacred domain. No, not even the venerated Oreo could impede on this holy, matrimonial union of banana and wafer.)

Vanilla or Banana flavored JELL-O Instant pudding and sliced bananas. 

Some might include whipped cream, cool whip or even a toasted meringue topping, some going so far as to make their pudding or custard from scratch but it is the simple combination of instant vanilla pudding, vanilla wafers and bananas that my family combined to make what I knew as banana pudding. It was my grandfather’s favorite dessert and I was seen as rather odd that I considered it often too sweet and rather mundane. It didn’t help that in my younger years I had no real appreciation for desserts that lacked chocolate. 

As with many foods that remind me of my childhood, I began to crave these culinary relics with a growing intensity the farther I wandered from my childhood hills and valleys. After missing going home for one Fourth of July holiday during my undergraduate years, my appetite for chili dogs grew to a ridiculous proportion considering my relative indifference to the hot dog and hamburger cookouts that would accompany our Independence day celebrations. I far preferred my grandmother’s potato salad and deviled eggs. 

During my graduate school year in NYC, biscuits and gravy was a staple comfort food (although I had always loved biscuits and gravy. Food of the gods, no?)

Now that my husband and I are in the unfamiliar territory of West Africa, it seems another culinary relic has reared its head: I found myself craving banana pudding. I haven’t had banana pudding since going home over college break and sharing a container of Magnolia Bakery’s famous Banana pudding with friends during Christmas 2010 in our apartment in Queens.

Togo has a wonderful supply of freshly picked bananas that taste so much better than any banana I have ever laid hands on in the states and so I knew I could not turn down this opportunity and challenge. 

Since we are in Togo, finding vanilla wafers here would be quite difficult and instant vanilla pudding, moderately so; this recipe has a few changes from the Banana pudding I knew as a child but still is (and in my opinion, more so) as delicious. 

Banana Pudding a la Togo

Ingredients

-2 tbsp Vanilla Custard Powder

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Image courtesy of Google

-1 pkg Vanilla cream Prince brand cookies

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Image courtesy of Google

-2 cups UHT semi-skimmed milk

-2 cups UHT Whipping Cream

-3 tbsp sugar

-1tsp Vanilla extract

-4 sliced Fresh ripe bananas

Mix 2 tablespoons of custard powder with 2 tablespoons of cold milk (from the 2 cups on the ingredient list) and stir until combined. It gets a super weird texture but don’t worry! 

Next, bring the remaining milk to a boil and then pour over custard mixture and whisk vigorously to combine. Now the custard can be placed in the fridge to cool.

Next for de-creaming the cookies! The Prince cookies are sandwich cookies with a vanilla cream in the middle. Take them apart (like you would an Oreo) and scrape off the cream. Put the scraped cookies in a bowl and set aside. If you have a use for the left over cookie cream, I would love to know. I hate waste! 

Next, chill your mixing bowl and whisk attachment. UHT whipping cream is often not as easy to whip, so it helps to have everything as cold as possible. It has to have at least 35% fat content to be whippable. Add the 3 tablespoons sugar and whip the cream until it is nice and fluffy. Gradually fold in the chilled vanilla custard and add vanilla extract.

Slice bananas!

Layer the custard/whipped cream mixture in a large bowl with the cookies and bananas. Alternate custard, cookie, banana etc etc. 

Et VOILA!

Banana Pudding a la Togo! 

We Are Now a Family of Four: Meet Seneca

Roughly two weeks ago D and I were eating at San Marco (a local pizza place near our home) with one of D’s co-workers after attending a farewell party for one of our awesome marines (who we already miss so much!) and another wonderful embassy co-worker. I was starving and really excited to get my usual mushroom pizza and Sport Actif (a local grapefruit and lemon soda, kind of like Squirt). I had been sick earlier that day, so I was tired and looking to eat my first real meal of the day.

Suddenly this tiny little ball of orange and white fur caught my eye. It was an itty-bitty, skinny kitten and he was wandering from table to table looking for food scraps. He was so tiny, grimy and obviously hungry and I was in love. At first sight, he was mine. I knew this kitty was going home with us. He had to, he needed us! I already knew his name and everything! He was Seneca and he belonged with us.

Seneca
Seneca: Look at that Togolese Sass!

My husband was not so convinced, he reminded me that we planned to get a puppy when we returned to the states after finishing our post in Togo. Having a ratio of more animals than adults can be really difficult in the Foreign Service. As much as I would love a puppy, this kitten needed us now and Togo doesn’t have any sort of shelter system. The hypothetical puppy that we would have adopted from the ASPCA still has a better chance at a good life than this vulnerable little tabby.

There was still one problem to consider, however. Winston.

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We already have one adult cat who is very skittish and we were worried that the kitten might expose him to some disease or another. D and I decided to take the kitten home (after bribing him with some ham), quarantine, and take him to a vet as soon as possible. This was a Thursday. We got him to a vet by Saturday morning. Thankfully the vet pronounced him healthy. He gave him worm medicine, de-flea’d and vaccinated him.

That Saturday he was officially pronounced a permanent part of our family 😀

We expected Seneca to be a bit feral but he has adjusted to being a loved on house cat quite quickly. He is lovable and constantly purring. He loves to cuddle and sleep on our chests.

Winston is starting to come around, at first there was much hissing but now Winston will just walk away when Seneca tries to play or love on him.

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We love our Togolese kitty and I knew my New Yorker cat would come around eventually. Probably.