Banana Pudding: A Southern Staple

Laura Davis with a great dessert recipe for any picnic, and as an added bonus – a small history lesson.
Text And Photo By Laura Davis

Got a picnic to go to? A barbeque or family reunion?  Or maybe your sweet tooth is kicking in!  Banana pudding is a dessert that was  a staple at many of these functions when I was growing up and definitely could satisfy any sweet tooth.

The “classic” I grew up with was usually made with Jello pudding mix, vanilla wafers and bananas.  Southerners are known for shortcut cooking that is using mixes and pre-made ingredients.  I am not sure why.  Maybe because it can be kinda warm (OK, it can be really hot . . . and humid) in the summer and reducing time in the kitchen is a good thing.  We all need time to fan ourselves on the front porch with a tall, cold glass of  lemonade!

I do wonder why banana pudding is a southern classic when bananas are not indigenous to the region?  So I did a little digging to see if there was a history and it seems there is, albeit a simple one.  The yellow, sweet banana that is eaten worldwide today was discovered in 1836 by Jamaican Jean Francois Poujot.  This banana was a mutant strain of the cooking variety of bananas now called plantains.  Poujot wisely started cultivating this mutant banana and that is how the banana that is so common to many worldwide began.

Bananas do not grow in the southern US and usually regional dishes are based on local ingredients.   Bananas were introduced to North American at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition as an exotic fruit and were sold for 10 cents a banana. By the late 1800s, bananas were transported to the US. The closest ports the bananas were transported through were  located in the south such as New Orleans, LA and Biloxi, MS and therefore it is possible bananas were more abundant, fresher and less expensive in the southern region.  Bananas were also transported to Boston and New York ports.  Naturally recipes were developed using bananas such as vanilla pudding with bananas in it. Sounds delicious. But how did vanilla wafers get in there?  Vanilla wafers were marketed nationally in the early 1900’s and it is thought that a cook added them to the banana pudding recipe and it was a hit.  Nilla Wafers published the recipe on their box and a famous desert was born.

There is just nothing quite like homemade vanilla pudding and it really makes banana pudding something truly special.  I make mine with a vanilla bean and a little vanilla extract.  Adding a vanilla bean to the milk while cooking the pudding adds a really nice, well rounded vanilla flavor to the pudding. Using ripe bananas that are still firm and pouring the vanilla pudding over while it is still warm are key to success for this casual, but delicious desert.  This dessert is similar to a trifle because it is layered using custard, Nilla wafer cookies and bananas.  This is a dessert that is repeatedly requested during the summer months at my house, year after year.  This is a request that I am delighted to oblige!

5.0 from 2 reviews
Banana Pudding
 
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Cook Time
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Delicious vanilla pudding with bananas and vanilla wafers combine together to make a classic banana pudding.
Author:
Recipe Type: Dessert
Serves: 12+
Ingredients
VANILLA PUDDING
  • ⅔ cup (126.5 g) of white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 cups (710 ml) of whole milk
  • 3 or 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • ½ teaspoon of good vanilla extract
  • 5 to 6 ripe but firm bananas
  • 1 box vanilla wafers
MERINGUE
  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon of vanilla (optional)
  • 1 cup (192 g) of superfine sugar
Instructions
FOR THE VANILLA PUDDING:
  1. Place the sugar, cornstarch and salt in 2½ quart saucepan and whisk together until blended. Whisk in 2 cups of the milk. Add the egg yolks to the remaining cup of milk and mix well and add to the saucepan. Put in the butter pieces. Cut the vanilla bean in half long wise, scrape the seeds out with the back of a knife and place the pod and seeds in the milk mixture.
  2. On medium heat, stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce to heat to maintain the simmer and keep stirring for about 2 minutes until it has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Add the vanilla extract. Place plastic wrap on top of the pudding mixture to keep a skin from forming.
  3. While the pudding is still warm, start preparing the pudding by putting vanilla wafer in a single layer in the bottom and sides of a 2 to 2½ quart casserole dish. Slice half the bananas and place on top of the wafers in a layer. Pour half the warm pudding over this layer and build another layer with the remaining wafers, bananas, and pudding.
  4. Crush up a few of the wafers and sprinkle them on top of the pudding. You can stop here, chill and serve with fresh whipped cream or you can make a meringue with the leftover egg whites while the pudding is still warm. Below is the recipe for the meringue.
  5. Note: If you choose not to use a vanilla bean, increase the vanilla extract to 1½ teaspoons.
FOR THE MERINGUE:
  1. Place egg whites, cream of tartar, vanilla in a mixing bowl. With whisk attachment, slowly bring mixture up to high speed and begin to slowly add your sugar (either pour slowly or a tablespoon at a time) until the meringues hold a stiff peak and are shiny.
  2. To bake the meringue on the pudding: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread the meringue on your pudding all the way to the edges of your dish leaving no pudding showing. Give it some swirls and peaks for those delicious browned bits of meringue. This should take about 5 minutes, keep an eye on it. Cool for about 30 minutes on counter, then chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Notes
The vanilla pudding can be made as a stand alone pudding and is delicious by itself or combined with fresh fruit or whipped cream. Nilla Wafers are not available everywhere so lady fingers could be substituted in a pinch but it is not quite the same or find one of the many delicious recipes for Vanilla Wafer Cookies on the web.
 

 

 

6 Comments
  1. I too have heard about Southerners often resorting to shortcuts in the kitchen :) But I think it’s cute and ok, the weather there really is hot (summer especially). I really like this recipe!

  2. Worldwide, there is no sharp distinction between “bananas” and “plantains”. Especially in the Americas and Europe, “banana” usually refers to soft, sweet, dessert bananas, particularly those of the Cavendish group, which are the main exports from banana-growing countries. By contrast, Musa cultivars with firmer, starchier fruit are called “plantains”. In other regions, such as Southeast Asia, many more kinds of banana are grown and eaten, so the simple two-fold distinction is not useful and is not made in local languages.:

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  3. I am 79 years old now and I have been eating Bananna Pudding all my life. My Grandmother said her mother used to make it and later when Vanilla Wafers came out by Nabisco it make it much faster and easier to make. I never ever remember seeing meringue on the top. We just finished it all off at one meal as the bananas would turn dark. We had ice boxes back in those days. So that takes it back to around 1875 or earlier if she made it from scratch. Oh yes they learned about it from their slaves on their plantation as many other recipies my Grandmother used all her life. She lived with us all my growing up years and after. I still cook southern. You should have seen her angel food cakes 8″ tall, 2 a week. She gave me the yolks at breakfast and saved the rest for the angel food cakes. I’m still looking for her recipe for her chicken dumplings, made with strips of dough not globs. Everything was in her head and all I can do is try to remember what she put in things.

  4. Laura my son I law and I made this pudding from scratch I Christmas Eve, I had told my daughter to buy cooking pudding but she bought instant and that does not work for southern banana pudding, our pudding we had in a casserole dish like yours but if you used four egg whites it needs yo bake in the Oven for 15 minutes and the medicine is done all the way thtough, also bananas are not the same as Plantains, if you have ever are one you know they are used in Hawaii for frying and not sweet at all. I am an Alabama girl transplanted to Mi 64 years ago, but

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