Banana pudding is the epitome of old-fashioned country cooking. Yet it’s based on the English dessert called trifle made of layered cake, custard and fruit, often served in a special footed glass serving dish. There are no fancy dishes used for banana pudding. The iconic banana pudding receptacle is a square-shaped Pyrex glass baking dish. Practically every “meat-and-three”-serving restaurant, old-school cafeteria and BBQ joint across the South has a shallow aluminum pan or Pyrex dish of silky banana pudding on its cold line ready to serve up. Nothing fancy, no ordeals — just easy and delicious.
How did banana pudding become such a quintessential comfort food dessert? Fruit companies, including the precursor to the well-known Chiquita brand, the United Fruit Company, started importing bananas from Latin America in the 1870s. Much of the imports came through the ports of New Orleans and Charleston, S.C. It’s not a coincidence that a great deal of Caribbean sugar was shipped to those ports as well. Thus, New Orleans became famous for a different banana dessert, bananas Foster. Then, in 1901, Nabisco began marketing vanilla wafers. Soon thereafter, recipes for banana pudding started popping up in Southern cookbooks. It was an inevitable love story.
Banana pudding lovers really love banana pudding. It’s creamy, layered, easy and delicious. Warm or cold, it’s pure down-home comfort. No fussing, no fretting. Eaten at a greasy spoon or a truck stop or your grandmother’s dining room table, it’s likely to produce the same result: an ear-to-ear smile of complete contentment.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Get the Recipe: Old-Fashioned Banana Pudding
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.