If you grew up in the South, you could tell what your momma was about to make based on the bowl or casserole dish she had sitting on the kitchen counter.
You knew it was meatloaf if it was the long and tall metal pan. If it was a deep cast iron skillet, it was either going to be fried chicken or chicken potpie.
But, if we saw the big, swirly, green glass bowl, we knew were going to have banana pudding. Or, as it’s pronounced correctly south of Missouri, “’Nana Puddin’.”
I can’t remember my mother ever using that green bowl for anything else. Putting a big salad in it would have been sacrilegious. However, since true southerners only eat big salads at a Luby’s or other fancy restaurants, there wasn’t much risk of seeing a salad in our ‘nana puddin’ bowl.
The only risk we ever ran of getting our hopes up about that green bowl was there was always a slight chance that the ‘nana puddin’ wasn’t going to be for us.
If there was a church social, a wedding shower, or someone had passed away, that ‘nana puddin’ (all of it) was going out of the house, and we wouldn’t be getting any of it.
There are two things my mother is known for when it comes to desserts: ‘nana puddin’ and chocolate pie. My cousin, Kim, still to this day will tell me and my mother how good her chocolate pie is, and she never misses an opportunity to partake of it at family gatherings.
Neither do I.
But, there’s always been something about my mom’s ‘nana puddin’ that has put it far above any other, regardless of where you find a different version — even at Luby’s.
When someone serves you ‘nana puddin’ other than your mother, you eat it and keep quiet. The temptation to compare it to your momma’s is strong, but as my mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice, come home and I’ll make you some ‘nana puddin.’”
This all came to a head recently when I saw a recipe in a magazine for banana pudding. Now, I knew immediately it wasn’t the real deal, because they used too many letters in the name. But, as I began to read the instructions, I could tell this was nothing like the way my momma makes it.
So I called her.
Me: “Momma, where did you get your ‘nana puddin’ recipe?
Mom: “From a Fluffo cookbook.”
Me: “A what?”
Mom: “A Fluffo cookbook. Fluffo was kinda like Crisco.
Me: “I remember Fluffo, but do they even make that anymore?”
Mom: “I don’t think so. But the cookbook fell apart a long time ago (texts me a picture of a Ziploc bag full of loose papers). I get out the two pages for the puddin’ and make it when I want to.”
Me: “I’m going to write a column about your ‘nana puddin’. Would you please make some so I can have a picture of it in that big, swirly green bowl?
Mom: “Sure. Matter of fact, today is your Uncle Kermit’s birthday, so I’ll make it and give it him.”
Once again, she’s making ‘nana puddin’, and it’s not for us.
Me: “OK, thank you.”
Mom: “Oh, John, one more thing.”
Me: “Yes, ma’am?”
Mom: “It’s not actually a banana pudding recipe. It’s a banana pie recipe. I just double the recipe and leave out the crust, and then I add meringue to the top.”
Me: “Say, what?”
At this moment, I realize that the whole ‘nana puddin’ part of my life has been a lie. I thought I was eating banana pudding, and I was eating a crust-less banana pie.
Me: “Why do you do it that way instead of using a ‘nana puddin’ recipe?” I asked.
Mom: “I don’t remember.”
Honestly, I had no reason to complain. I’d been eating Fluffo banana pie, disguised as banana pudding, since John F. Kennedy was the president and I never complained. As a matter of fact, I bragged about it my entire life. I used to take it to school in my lunchbox and smile and moan with satisfaction while I ate it in front of my friends.
And now, I find out, my mom’s ‘nana puddin’ ain’t puddin’, it’s pie.
But, there are worse things in life. Like the condition of my mom’s Fluffo cookbook. Fluffo hasn’t been made in years, and the cookbooks haven’t been printed since years before that.
So, I found her that Fluffo cookbook on eBay and ordered it. By the time she reads this in the paper, she should have her new (old) Fluffo cookbook.
Maybe I can get her to get out that big, swirly green bowl at Thanksgiving. I’m ready to have some of the best ‘nana puddin’, that’s really banana pie with no crust, that I’ve ever had.