In 1969, when I was in the ninth grade, Home Economics was a required class for girls. We spent a semester on cooking and a semester on sewing, with a smattering of instruction on childcare and household budgeting thrown into the mix.
During the cooking semester, we made a banana cream pie. We worked together in groups of four in the Home Economics kitchens. My group’s pie turned out beautifully—the filling rich and smooth, topped with a lovely meringue, the crust flaky and light.
When I told my father about our pie, he started salivating. “I love banana cream pie,” he said. “Your mother has never made one.”
I don’t know why my mother didn’t make cream pies. She made several pies a week, it seemed, but typically they were apple or cherry, sometimes peach or apricot. Occasionally, she made a strawberry rhubarb pie, but only one of the four kids in the family would eat it. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, she made pumpkin and mincemeat. But I don’t recall her ever making a cream pie.
Throughout the remainder of my ninth-grade year, my father teased me about making him a banana cream pie. I kept putting him off. I wasn’t sure I could repeat the culinary coup all by myself.
But as the school year drew to a close, I finally committed. “I’ll make you a banana cream pie for Father’s Day.”
On the Saturday before Father’s Day, I slaved all day in the kitchen.
I rolled out the crust, using my mother’s tried and true pie crust recipe. My crust didn’t look quite as nice as hers, and it split when I draped it over the pan. But I smoothed out the tears and patched the holes, before crimping the edges of the crust around the pie plate rim. Then I baked the shell to a light golden brown.
I mixed the milk and sugar and other ingredients for the custard. I stirred it constantly to keep it from scorching and to get out all the lumps. Then I sliced the bananas and arranged them on the bottom of the baked pie shell, and poured the custard in on top, filling it to the pretty crimped edges.
I didn’t try to make meringue by myself, but I whipped cream till it peaked in stiff white curls, and spread the cream on top, with a few banana slices for decoration.
My pie looked fabulous—as nice as the Home Ec pie, even without the meringue.
Then I put the pie in the refrigerator to stay cool until dinner.
A couple of hours later, I happened to pass through the kitchen. My two-year-old brother stood in front of the open refrigerator dipping his fingers into the smooth yellow custard of my pie, his cheeks already covered with whipped cream.
Both my brother and I dissolved into tears.
Our loud cries brought my mother running. She chastised my brother (though what good does it do to chastise a two-year-old?) and helped me repair the damage.
Our family of six ate the pie that evening – all of it. If it was a little light on custard and a little heavy on bananas, no one complained. My father still raved about my Father’s Day gift.
But that experience—and a few others—soured me on making pies and on cooking generally. There isn’t much lasting recognition in cooking—you make it, and it’s gone. Where’s the enduring glory in that?
Sewing at least gave me a product that stayed around more than a day. And clothing was less likely to be destroyed by my baby brother.
Do you like to cook?
Theresa is the award-winning author of historical fiction about settling the American West. Before she turned to writing, Theresa was an attorney, mediator, and human resources executive.
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