By SHANNON WATKINS
Generally speaking, I don’t like artificial ingredients and won’t buy things that have them for my cooking if I can help it. I haven’t totally managed to go full-bore organic free-range non-GMO, if only because I haven’t yet won the lottery and prefer not to have to choose between a bag of groceries and a full tank of gas.
Still, I like to try and err on the side of real stuff: butter, not margarine; farmers’ market produce in season; fresh eggs from hens whose owners I know, that sort of thing. All of which is fairly hilarious given that I will happily drive to Taco Bell where the meat filling is 36 percent beef and 100 percent delicious. It doesn’t count if somebody else made it, everybody knows that.
But for reasons that are not clear, I have developed a particular dislike for Cool Whip.
Actually, the reasons are clear: it tastes vaguely like sweetened, whipped Plasticine and is full of chemicals. This doesn’t mean that if you have me over and put Cool Whip on your pie, I will flip over the dessert tray and scream for Reddi-Whip, although admittedly if I did you’d have an absorbing story to tell at your future dinner parties.
But no, I was raised right; I’d eat it and thank you for your hospitality. As failed Southern lady and writer Florence King once said of being a good guest, “If someone offers you a glass of gall and wormwood, you by God drink it.”
However, growing up, a lot of my grandmother’s recipes were old family favorites, but she gleaned a lot of new ones from the food section of the Virginian Pilot, which sometimes involved shortcut (i.e., chemical-laden) ingredients. At the time I barely knew the difference and as an adult I still have a weakness for certain of those dishes.
The jewel in the crown of my grandmother’s summer desserts was a banana pudding she got from the Pilot. It tastes ten times better than the ingredients would suggest—tangy, mellow, almost sophisticated, which is not a description one would think to use for something involving Nilla Wafers—and was so beloved by one of my grandfather’s fishing buddies he’d praise it up and down in hopes of getting her to make one for him.
I was going to make a banana pudding for a potluck once at a friend’s house and found a recipe involving white chocolate and ginger and got very wrapped up in planning it, until it finally occurred to me that spending what was going to be a lot of money for a dessert to impress a bunch of people I barely knew at the time was just silly.
Then I got on the phone and called my grandmother up and she dug out her recipe and read it to me. I took it to the party and had nothing left but a messy serving spoon at the end of the night. Worth every fake chemical in it, too.
Virginian Pilot Banana Pudding
1 large box instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups whole milk
1 8-oz. container of Cool Whip, thawed
1 8-oz. carton sour cream
1 bunch bananas, just ripe
1 box Nilla Wafers
Stir the pudding mix and milk together according to package directions and let firm up for about 5 minutes, then stir in the Cool Whip and sour cream. Mix completely.
Put down a layer of Nilla Wafers in neat rows, touching each other, on the bottom of a 9” x 13” pan, then slice bananas and place rounds on top of the wafers.
Cover with half the pudding mixture, then repeat with cookies, then bananas, then pudding. Refrigerate for at least a couple hours, so the cookies have time to absorb the moisture and get squishy. A nice way to present this is crushing a handful of Nilla Wafers, if you have any left, and scattering the crumbs over the top.
People will like this because they’re used to the cafeteria version that’s based off plain vanilla pudding, which is certainly OK but won’t knock your socks off. They’ll sort of look bored when they hear you brought banana pudding, until they get a look at it, and can smell it. Then I suggest you step aside quickly, to avoid getting shoeprints all over your nice outfit.
Of course, you’ll have a Cool Whip container left, which if you’re like my grandmother you’ll hang on to out of thriftiness and use to store other things once you’ve washed it.
If you’re living with someone who does this, it may lead to the uniquely weird experience I grew up with, of rooting around in the fridge for a snack, pulling out a Cool Whip bowl, and discovering it’s full of collards. It’s about enough to make you eat some more banana pudding just to cheer yourself up.