Today we have yet another reason to celebrate Maya Angelou, the legendary author, poet, teacher, actress and civil rights activist…It’s her 86th birthday! Of course, she’s better known for her more rare accomplishments. She was the first African-American woman to have her screenplay produced (the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia). Her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, spent a record-setting two years on The New York Times’ paperback nonfiction best seller list. The autobiography, incidentally, was also the first nonfiction best seller by an African-American woman. Adding to the list of firsts, here’s a little-known fact: Back in 1940s San Francisco, Angelou was also the first black female streetcar conductor.
She’s been nominated for Tonys and Emmys, took home a Grammy for best spoken word album and two NAACP Image Awards for her outstanding literary works, and Angelou’s accolades don’t stop there. Much like her metaphorical caged bird, we could go on and on singing (Maya’s praises), but we’re sure you’re quite familiar with the household name and what she signifies.
Angelou isn’t the only inspirational figure we honor today. For years following the April 5, 1968 assassination of her dear friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya, mourning her fellow civil rights leader, had no desire to celebrate the anniversary of her birth on that of his death. Of course, she’s since moved past those sad times, following her own advice: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
We have a sneaking suspicion that this year the self-proclaimed food-lover will be commemorating the big day with a table full of some of her (and Dr. King’s) favorite soul food dishes. In the introduction to her latest cookbook, the culinary great—Did we mention her NAACP Image Award was in recognition of her first compilation of recipes?—reveals: “At one time, I described myself as a cook, a driver, and a writer. I no longer drive, but I do still write and I do still cook. And having reached the delicious age of eighty-one, I realize that I have been feeding other people and eating for a long time. I have been cooking nearly all my life, so I have developed some philosophies.”
With the myriad accomplishments under her belt, this wise and remarkable woman chose to describe herself as a cook first? Don’t know about you guys, but we’re trying out her famed banana pudding recipe immediately.
Maya Angelou’s Bread Pudding
3 cups vanilla wafers
4 ripe bananas , thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 cups milk
8 eggs, separated
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large saucepan, combine 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt; stir until blended. Mix in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened and boiling. Boil one minute, then remove from heat.
2. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks, then whisk in about 1/2 cup of hot custard until blended. Pour yolk mixture back into saucepan of custard; cook over medium heat, stirring, for two minutes. Stir in butter and vanilla until blended.
3. Place vanilla wafers on bottom of a shallow two-quart casserole dish. Top with layers of banana slices and custard. Repeat layering, ending with custard.
4. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar at low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar; increase speed to medium and gradually beat in remaining sugar. Beat until egg whites hold stiff peaks.
5. Spoon meringue over hot custard immediately, making sure that meringue touches baking dish on all sides (this prevents it from shrinking). Transfer to oven and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Remove pudding from oven and let cool for one hour.