Thursday, January 28, 2010


This is not the time of year to plan beautiful fruit tarts. I bought some blueberries last week, imported from some South American country, and they were tasteless, dry pellets of pseudo-fruit. Here in Gloucester, we’re spoiled by the luscious little blue globes that come from our neighbors to the north in Maine. The state of Maine produces so many blueberries that growers have to import truckloads of hives of extra bees to pollinate them.

While we’re waiting for the luscious blueberries (and peaches and plums and cherries) of high summer, we can console ourselves with a remarkable fruit that we take for granted because it’s with us twelve months of the year. It is grown in parts of the world where it is always summer and, unlike some other fruits, it is no less delicious for traveling thousands of miles to our markets. This commonplace wonder is the friendly banana. (Somewhere I read that bananas are the number one item sold in supermarkets. Small wonder.)

Bananas are one of the oldest-known fruits. There is a myth that recounts that the serpent in the Garden of Eden actually was hidden in a bunch of bananas. In fact, the Latin botanical name for banana translates “Paradise fruit of knowledge.”

The ancients thought of bananas in terms of temptation, perhaps because no man can resist a banana cream pie. I know this from personal experience. I remember one dinner guest years ago who went to some length to inform me that he wouldn’t be having dessert with us because he had given up refined sugar. True to his word, he ate only three servings of banana cream pie!

The following is a recipe for that irresistible pie. It features a velvet-smooth custard that can’t curdle because of the binding effect of the flour. The top is a drift of whipped cream dusted with golden flakes of toasted coconut.

Now, Eve, whom would you care to tempt?

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups milk
1 egg, plus 1 yolk
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 ripe bananas
1 baked 9-inch pie shell
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 cup well-chilled heavy cream, whipped with 1 tablespoon sugar
In a heavy saucepan, mix sugar, flour and salt till thoroughly combined. With a whisk, stir in a little milk (about 1/3 cup) and mix to a smooth paste. Gradually stir in the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, till mixture comes to a full boil. Turn heat as low as possible and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Beat the egg and yolk in a small bowl. Add about 1/2 cup of the hot mixture, whisk in well and return to the pan. Heat just until mixture returns to the boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on surface to keep skin from forming. Cool.

Thinly slice 2 bananas into baked shell and immediately cover with custard. Chill pie thoroughly (2 hours minimum.) Meanwhile toast coconut on sheet in 325° oven for 10-12 minutes, or until golden, stirring frequently.

Chill a metal bowl and beaters in freezer. Just before serving whip cream with sugar. Peel remaining banana and score lengthwise with a fork. Arrange thin slices around edge of pie and sprinkle coconut over all. Serve at once or chill again for up to 2 hours.

Note: To stabilize the whipped cream so that it will hold in the fridge without “weeping,” beat in 1 tablespoon instant vanilla pudding mix and reduce the sugar to taste. This is a great trick whenever you make whipped cream. The unused portion of the pudding mix can be left in its box which is slipped into a zip lock bag and stored until the next time you make whipped cream.

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