Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Banana Pudding, Please

Summer and I don’t get along. I love being a Southerner most parts of the year – except for the three or four hottest months of the year. Although technically it’s still spring in Georgia, tomorrow’s record breaking high is supposed to be around 98 or 99 degrees. Quite literally hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement, I think. Well, I could go on and on about the unbearable heat, but I’ll focus my energies instead on happy summer eating. The thing I do love about summer is fresh vegetables, refreshing cold beverages, ice cream and fruity desserts.

One of these days I will write about something that doesn’t have sugar in it, but today I was presented with the opportunity to make one of my favorite summer time desserts. When life gives you an almost rotten bananas, make banana pudding. At least, that’s my motto and something I learned from a very young age. My mama and my Granny were masters at banana pudding. And I’m not talking the Jell-o Instant Pudding kind. In my mind, it is not true Southern banana pudding unless it is a homemade custard layered with bananas, vanilla wafers and topped with meringue. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had some fabulous banana puddings made with cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, heavy whipping cream, shortbread cookies, pound cake and, gasp, even Cool Whip and doctored up instant pudding mix. However, what I always come back to is good ol’ naner puddin.’ Or bananer puddin’ as my papa would say.

Banana pudding is full of contradictions. First of all, it’s not a pudding – it’s really a custard. It’s also a trifle – a classic British dish consisting of layers of cake or biscuits (cookies) and custard. The first banana pudding recipes appeared in the United States in the late 19th century, when bananas were still a newly imported tropical fruit. Early recipes consisted of simply custard and bananas. Around 1900, some genius (and I really do mean that) thought to incorporate Nabisco’s newly introduced Nilla Wafers. Nabisco printed banana pudding recipe on Nilla Wafer boxes for years – maybe they still do. (Confession: I used the off-brand which also had a banana pudding recipe printed on the box.)

Although enjoyed across the United States, somehow it has come to be thought of as a Southern dessert. The only thing I can figure is because Southern ports perhaps had first dibs on bananas coming in from Caribbean and South American growers. I imagine, too, that bananas would be cheaper in the South since transportation costs would be lower than shipping them further north. Also, there’s the British trifle connection and the fact that Southerners like their desserts on the sweeeeet side. Nothing gets much sweeter than banana pudding! However it came into being, Southerners have embraced and claimed banana pudding as our own. I even found a National Banana Pudding Festival in Hickman County, Tennessee!

Aside from a tall glass of sweet iced tea, nothing is more perfect on a hot summer day than a bowl of light and silky banana pudding topped with a fluffy meringue. Keep in mind that banana pudding is best the day you make it or the day after. I love it straight from the fridge, although it doesn’t look so appetizing after a while because the bananas turn dark. It can also get watery the longer it sits. So, make it and eat it up – which shouldn’t be too hard.

The recipe I’m sharing with you is my mom’s. I found it in a stash of forgotten recipes a few weeks ago while cleaning out a closet. When I was in college, I had her tell me how she made it as I wrote it down on a piece of purple paper. I was SO thrilled to find it because I feel like the banana puddings I have made in recent years have not measured up to those of my memories. She actually made her pudding in the microwave. I had been making it on the stove top, but I have to admit returning to “1980s microwave cookery” works in this case. You can kind of slow down and control the cooking process to prevent scalding. I made it today just like she instructed and the result – perfection. It was like she was here with me again, standing over my shoulder telling me to add a dash of salt or to be careful not to cook it too long so it doesn’t curdle. My boys helped me layer vanilla wafers – well, they mostly ate them – and for a little while we were all together.

Joyce’s Banana Pudding

½ cup sugar
2 heaping tbsp. cornstarch
Dash of salt
2 egg yolks
2 cups milk
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla (or more – give it a good splash)
bananas (I used two large ripe bananas)
vanilla wafer cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place sugar, cornstarch and a dash of salt in a microwavable mixing bowl. Separate two eggs. Set whites aside in a smaller mixing bowl. Add half of milk – combine all ingredients with a wire whisk. Add remaining milk and whisk again. Place in microwave for two minutes. Remove and whisk. Return to microwave again for two minutes. Remove, whisk and repeat microwaving in two minute intervals until the mixture thickens to an almost pudding –like consistency. This will be approximately 10 minutes. Remove warm pudding mixture from microwave and add butter and vanilla. Whisk until smooth – don’t worry if the pudding seems a little runny – it will get firm when cooled. Layer a casserole with vanilla wafers and banana slices. Pour half of pudding and layer again.

The bottom layer of bananas and vanilla wafers.
To make the meringue, beat the egg whites with 2 tbsp. of sugar and a splash of vanilla until it forms soft peaks. Spread on top of pudding and bake until lightly brown (about 8 minutes). Decorate as desired.


  1. You know, I do love bananas yet I've never had a *from scratch* banana pudding. I love that you found your Mom's recipe on that piece of purple paper and can only imagine how the memories came flooding back. Her (your) pudding looks delicious and good enough to enter in the Hickman Festival! I clicked on the link...what fun it would be to go there and I love that they are raising money to help victims of fire in their area etc. Great post!

  2. You've got me craving it now!


  3. This is funny - my husband and I just had the discussion yesterday about "real" banana pudding. Being from Va and NC, we think it can't have custard-like pudding or meringue on top. Just vanilla pudding, vanilla wafers and bananas. We've introduced it to lots of Californians in the last 27 years!

  4. Thanks, all! @Tastemonials - I wonder if the meringue version is a Deep South kind of thing? I'll have to do a little research.

  5. Oooh, I love the microwave version. Mother never used meringue and so I don't either. Jack's vanilla wafers are preferred, and they are hard to find outside the South. I confess that I like banana pudding slightly warm or at room temperature.

  6. Update to this post: I found that if you double the recipe, double the cooking time in the microwave and use a really big microwave safe mixing bowl. It is doable in the microwave, but I think a large batch of custard is best suited for stovetop cooking. Enjoy!

  7. I cooked this yesterday and it was fabulous but after an hour or so it was basically soup. . Any suggestions for next time?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Shane. I've never had that happen before. It usually thickens as it cools. Maybe next time get it into the refrigerator as soon as it is at room temperature. I'm glad it tasted good, though. :)