For my roommates and me, Pride and Prejudice is the ultimate girls' night movie. There's quite a few squeal-worthy moments: the first time Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth make eye contact, Kiera Knightly's witty "dah-ncing" comment she throws over her shoulder at Mr. Darcy, touching hands as he helps her into her carriage, the rain scene, their silhouettes nuzzling each other in the dawn, and of course, the "Mrs. Darcy" scene at the very end in the firelight.
It's a beautifully romantic, with grand English landscape shots and glittering ballroom scenes, pepped with old-fashioned and quaint yet wonderful gestures of love. There's something about Regency England that inspires "Keep Calm and Find Mr. Darcy" posters (not that we had one hanging in our suite or anything) and makes you wonder if chivalry really is dead for good.
I'm quite found of this picture, really I am, yet I'm also glad I've spent most of this semester dismantling this ideal. My big final paper for my history and literature major this year was about The Odd Women by George Gissing. It's gritty and rather disillusioned, peppered with off-putting characters (and not of the cute Mrs. Bennet variety) and misogynist passages. The novel's title is an allusion to a population phenomena in 19th century Britain, in which women outnumbered men by a good half million. It traces the lives of a few of the "odd women" (also flatteringly referred to as "superfluous women") who could not be evenly paired off in marriage; they exist on the edge of destitution, unable to find a husband to support them and kept from finding a sustainable profession by society's gendered expectations.
The Odd Women reveals the darker under-story beneath the idyllic romance and independent, intelligent women in Pride and Prejudice. It is a portrait of the grim economic need behind Lizzy's and Jane's marriages and suggests an alternate reality, one of debasing and restrictive gender roles and shabby-genteel existences in one-room flats. The Odd Women reminds us that for all we want to laugh with the witty narrator at Mrs. Bennet's matchmaking, her fears for her daughters' futures are quite valid; marriage with Mr. Collins is a heck of a lot better than starving.
Yet Gissing's grim novel also contains an element of hope. Among the odd women are a pair of feminists who aim to improve women's education and expand their professional opportunities. One of them, Rhoda, tells her friend, "You had other examples before you...who live bravely and work hard and are proud of their place in the world."
There's something rather heroic in those words, in this idea of living bravely, facing the world and the male-dominated professional sphere on your own, struggling as best as you can to make a living for yourself at a time when such a practice was completely against social mores. Lizzy Bennet might be free-thinking and skilled at verbal dueling, but it's these stern, no-nonsense feminist working women who are really heroines. It's hardly as romantic as the Pride and Prejudice movie, yet its hopeful idealism against this grim backdrop is far more compelling.
Which brings me to this banana cream pie. I have that Odd Women quote written on a post-it on my wall, right next to one with hastily scribbled instructions for banana cream pie. I made it some four months back, and it's become associated in my mind with essay writing; I baked this pie over Thanksgiving break, squeezed in between drafting final papers. I had originally planned to publish this recipe before Christmas, but my multiple Ireland papers just kept dragging on.
It's delicious, nostalgic, and comforting, reminiscent of that dessert made with instant pudding, bananas, and Nilla wafers, but made more classy. (Fact: everything looks fancier when it's in a tart crust.) I think it was worth the wait--and the papers.
For the Crust
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, very cold, cubed
¼ cup buttermilk, cold
For the Banana Cream Filling
1 ¾ cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 medium very ripe bananas
1 ½ cup cold heavy cream
½ powdered sugar
For the Crust
Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.
Add the butter. Using your hands or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour until it is in small pieces. Alternately, place the flour in a food processor, and the butter, and pulse until same result is achieved.
Mix in the buttermilk, one or two tablespoons at a time until the dough barely comes together.Gather the dough together in a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.
Roll out the dough into a circle, about 10-11 inches in diameter, depending on the size of your pan. When if you place the pie plate face-down on the dough, there should be about an inch of dough around the edge. Place the dough into the pie plate or tart tin, and trim and shape the edges. If you’re using a tart pan, Roll your rolling pin over the top to trim off the excess.
Freeze the pie crust for 30 minutes to an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cover the pie with a piece of foil, and weigh it down with baking beans. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the foil and beans, then bake for another 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown around the edges. Let cool completely.
For the Filling
Heat the whole milk in a medium saucepan until it is just simmering.
In another bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the yolks are pale and fluffy. Whisk in the cornstarch and salt.
Temper the egg yolks: slowly pour the milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly the whole time. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and heat until the mixture comes to a boil; let boil for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly the whole time.
Take the cream off the heat and and stir in the butter, followed by the vanilla. Transfer to a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, placing the plastic directly on the surface of the cream. Allow to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Pour the heavy cream into a large mixing bowl and whisk until it forms soft peaks. Whisk in the powdered sugar.
Fold about half of the whipped cream into the custard mixture. Set aside the other half.
Slice two the bananas into ¼ inch slices. Layer them on the bottom of the pie crust, spread half of the custard mixture on top, followed by another layer of bananas, and another of custard.
Slice and serve the pie, garnishing with the remaining whipped cream, and additional banana slices, if desired