There's a lot of debate about its origins. Which came first: 'Nilla wafers or the pudding? (This is not the recipe on the 'Nilla Wafers box, which uses cornstarch and not flour.) And why is it considered a southern dish?
The first recipe for banana pudding was found in Mrs. Rorer's New Cook Book, by Sarah Tyson Rorer (1902) in a section labeled "Hawaiian Recipes".
Then, in 1903, the following recipe from "The Kentucky Receipt Book," by Mary Harris Frazer, was published:
Take ½ dozen bananas , peel and cut in pieces an inch thick, put in baking dish and pour over custard made in the following manner: Custard-One pint of milk, 3 eggs, beat the yolks light, add milk, also 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Have the milk boiling, add the eggs and let it cook until it thickens; when cool pour over the bananas. Make a meringue with whites of the eggs and granulated sugar, put on top of custard, set in oven a few minutes to brown. Serve at once.
So, by about 1900, we have the custard, bananas and meringue parts of banana pudding in place. Nabisco began selling the final piece of the puzzle, vanilla wafers, in about 1901. No one seems to know who thought of lining the banana pudding dish or layering the pudding with vanilla wafers.
Have you ever had banana pudding at Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House in Savannah? They're famous for it. Why, I can't imagine. Her recipe is typical and also why gourmands turns their noses up when you mention banana pudding: Mrs. Wilkes uses instant vanilla pudding, very few bananas, and a 'Nilla wafer. No wonder it has a bad name!
But this recipe is the real McCoy. Is it trendy? No. Is it glamorous? No.
Is it the perfect comfort food? YES.
It's a snap to make. Not as simple as instant pudding on top of bananas with a 'Nilla wafer stuck in the top but the little extra effort is the difference between a Mrs. Wilkes' type banana pudding and a pudding that will make you roll your eyes and moan. I'm serious here, people. You have no idea.
There are a couple basic rules to follow: you must use a 9" by 9" baking pan and you must have ripe bananas. The kind with some black speckles on them. Not mushy, ripe.
Ready? Here we go!
Perfect Banana Pudding
From Texas Cooking Online
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
4 egg yolks
1 box of Vanilla Wafers
5 large ripe bananas
For the meringue:
4 egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375°.
Line the bottom of a 9x9-inch baking dish with a layer of vanilla wafers. (This recipe will not use the whole box, so you may snack along the way, but don't get carried away.)
Peel the bananas and slice into 3/8-inch rounds; use a ruler (I'm kidding!). Cover the banana slices with plastic wrap to keep them from darkening, and quickly make your pudding.
Note: I didn't do it this way. I made the pudding first, covered it with plastic wrap and then sliced the bananas.
Combine the sugar, flour and salt in bowl, mix well, and set aside. In a heavy saucepan, beat egg yolks well (just use a fork or a whisk, but beat well). Over medium heat, add the flour mixture to the egg yolks alternately with the milk and vanilla, stirring constantly.
Bring to a gentle boil and, when mixture begins to thicken, add butter, continuing to stir to prevent scorching. When the mixture reaches pudding consistency, remove from heat.
Place a layer of banana slices in the baking dish on top of the vanilla wafers. Don't stint and put one slice of banana per wafer. Line those banana slices up edge-to-edge.
Pour, spreading as necessary, half of the pudding over the banana layer. Put down another layer of vanilla wafers, another layer of banana slices, and cover with the remaining pudding.
For the meringue, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Add the cream of tartar. Beat and then add sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Fold the vanilla into the meringue, and spread the meringue over the pudding, sealing it at the sides of the dish.
Place in a preheated 375° oven and bake until browned, 12 to 15 minutes, depending upon your oven.
This recipe makes 6 or 8 servings. Any leftovers should be covered and refrigerated.
And, yes, it's hard to cover anything with a meringue top and although banana pudding is not attractive after it's been refrigerated, it's still just as delicious.