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Bless Your Spoon: Banana pudding a southern staple

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Being served banana pudding for dessert at my cousin’s rehearsal dinner was no surprise – after all, it’s Tennessee’s unofficial state dessert. The pudding’s an iconic classic dessert and specialty across all southern states.   

Dating back to 1888, the recipe once called for sponge cake and whipped cream. Today’s recipes feature cookie wafers, fresh bananas, with cooked, scratch custards or short-cut pudding mixes. Variations include cooked and no-cook recipes using a few simple ingredients. Use your imagination when it comes to choosing cookies – shortbread and chocolate wafers are good alternatives.

Sometimes, the quick, minute-saving, pudding recipes might be necessary – but I prefer the taste of old-fashioned, scratch custards. The cooked method doesn’t take much additional time – but yields more flavorful results. This is the real deal.

Banana pudding is easy to make, economical, ready to serve, and a perfect dessert for large gatherings.  Choose any recipe and enjoy – served at room temperature, straight from the fridge, or warmed in an oven.

It’s no wonder this classic pudding’s been adopted as a time-honored, favorite dessert and Southern tradition.

EASIEST EVER BANANA PUDDING

1 box cook vanilla pudding mix (not instant)

½ cup Cool Whip

12 oz. vanilla wafers

6 medium bananas

Cool Whip

Prepare cooked pudding according to pkg. directions. Add ½ cup Cool Whip to pudding. In a rectangular dish, line bottom with vanilla wafers. Add layer of sliced bananas. Pour ½ of pudding over bananas. Repeat layers of vanilla wafers, sliced bananas, and remainder of pudding. Cover top with remainder of Cool Whip. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

GRANDMA’S BANANAS AND CUSTARD

1 1/3 cups sugar

3 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Dash of salt

3 beaten egg yolks

3 cups whole milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

12 oz. vanilla wafers

6 sliced medium bananas

3 beaten egg whites

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a saucepan, combine sugar, flour, and salt. In a mixer bowl, beat egg yolks. Add milk to yolks and mix well. Add egg mixture to sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat while stirring until smooth and thickened. Stir in vanilla extract. In a baking dish, layer one-third wafers in bottom of dish. Slice bananas and arrange over wafers. Spread 1/3 of custard evenly over bananas. Repeat wafers, bananas, and custard twice. In a mixer bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add 1/3 cup of sugar one Tbsp. at a time and beat until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla and beat again. Spread meringue over custard making sure to seal at the edges. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

BANANA-CREAM CHEESE BANANA PUDDING

2 lg. boxes instant vanilla pudding

3 cups cold whole milk

8 oz. softened cream cheese

9 oz. Cool Whip

Vanilla wafers

5 sliced bananas

Cool Whip

In a mixer bowl, beat pudding and milk until thickened. Add cream cheese and Cool Whip. Beat until mixed well. In a glass dish, layer wafers, bananas, and pudding mix. Repeat layering. Top with additional Cool Whip.

BUTTER YOUR BANANA CUSTARD PUDDING

1 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

3 beaten egg yolks

2 cups whole milk

¼ tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

12 oz. vanilla wafers

4 sliced medium bananas

3 beaten egg whites

3 beaten egg whites

¼ cup sugar

In a saucepan, add sugar and flour. In a mixer bowl, beat egg yolks. Add milk, salt, and 2 Tbsp. melted butter. Cook until mixture thickens. Fold in vanilla extract and 2 more Tbsp. melted butter.  In a baking dish, spread vanilla wafers over bottom. Add layer of bananas. Repeat wafers and then bananas. Pour custard over top. In mixer bowl, beat egg whites. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread over top of pudding making sure to seal corners. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 12 minutes or until brown.

BANANA SOUR CREAM PUDDING

6 oz. instant vanilla pudding/pie filling

2 ½ cups cold whole milk

½ cup sour cream

1 Tbsp. whipped topping

8 oz. whipped topping

Vanilla wafers

4 sliced bananas

In a mixer bowl, combine pudding mix and milk. Add sour cream and 1 Tbsp. whipped topping. Blend well. In a 2-quart serving dish, alternate layers of wafers, bananas, and pudding mixture, ending with pudding mixture. Spread the remaining whipped topping evenly over the top. Cover and chill in refrigerator.

SOUTHERN STATE BANANA PUDDING

3 beaten egg yolks

1 pkg. instant vanilla pudding/pie filling

3 ¾ cup cold whole milk

2 ½ dozen vanilla wafers

3 sliced large bananas

3 beaten egg whites

Dash of salt

1/3 cup sugar

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add pudding mix and milk. Mix well. Pour mixture in a saucepan. Cook while stirring over medium heat and bring to a full boil. Remove from heat. In a 2-quart baking dish, arrange layer of vanilla wafers over bottom. Add layer of banana slices and a layer of pudding. Add another layer of wafers, bananas, and pudding. Beat egg whites with salt until foamy. Gradually beat in sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Cover top of pudding making sure to seal edges. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes or meringue is light brown.

CHOCOLATE BOTTOM BANANA PUDDING

2 boxes cooked banana/vanilla pudding (not instant)

2 cups whole milk

2 cups evaporated milk

1 box crushed thin chocolate wafers

4 sliced bananas

1 Tbsp. crushed chocolate wafers

Cook pudding according to package directions using milks. Cover, and allow to cool. Reserve 1 Tbsp. of crushed cookies for topping. Line bottom of baking dish with whole or crushed chocolate wafers. On top of wafers, layer in order: bananas and pudding. Repeat with wafers, bananas, and pudding. Layer until all is gone – ending with pudding. Top with wafer crumbs. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.

TENNESSEE TWO SUGAR PUDDING

2 cups whole milk

½ cup sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

1 heaping Tbsp. all-purpose flour

¼ tsp. salt

2 beaten egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla extract

12 oz. vanilla wafers

4 sliced medium bananas

2 beaten egg whites

Dash of salt

4 Tbsp. sugar

In a saucepan, scald milk almost until it begins to bubble around edges. In a bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, flour, and salt. Add ½ cup of hot milk to the sugar mixture and mix well. In a mixer bowl, beat egg yolks and gradually add to the sugar/milk mixture. Pour mixture back in saucepan with remaining milk. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and fold in vanilla. Cool completely. In a baking dish, cover bottom with cookies. Add ½ of custard and a layer of bananas. Repeat layers of wafers, pudding, and bananas. Top with meringue. For meringue, beat egg whites and salt. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Cover top with meringue making sure to seal edges. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 12 minutes or until top is brown.

THE SKINNY ON BANANA PUDDING

1 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk

3 cups skim milk

2 lg. pkg. fat/sugar-free vanilla instant pudding

16 oz. fat-free whipped topping

1 box. Reduced-fat vanilla wafers

4 sliced large bananas

Fat-free whipped topping

In a mixer bowl, combine condensed milk, skim milk, pudding mix, and whipped topping. Beat until smooth. In a large dish, alternate layers of wafers, bananas, and pudding. Repeat and end with pudding. Top with whipped topping. Refrigerate.