Banana Pudding

Banana pudding

Published April 25, 2013.

Banana pudding just might be the quintessential Southern summer dessert. It is a staple at family reunions, church picnics and crawfish boils. For decades, middle-aged women wearing madras Capri pants and kitten heels have tottered across the wet grassy fields of parks and down uneven sidewalks while tightly gripping the sides of aging Pyrex bowls with fading daisies printed on the sides.

Almost anyone can make banana pudding. It doesn’t need to rise and bake. It is easy to assemble and uses very few ingredients. Perhaps this is why with the exception of the occasional cafeteria, it is rarely available for purchase. However, most Southerners have no aversion to shelling out a little dough for other custard and banana delicacies like Bananas Foster, Crème Brulee and banana cream pie.

Right after I moved to New York, a friend drug me to Magnolia Bakery mainly because Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in Sex in the City, Carrie Bradshaw, had a special affection for their cupcakes. As I leaned over the display case, I saw small single servings of banana pudding for $5. FIVE DOLLARS! My initial shock turned to confusion and then quickly wrinkled up into anger. I placed buying banana pudding in the same ballpark as paying for sex and selling a baby on the black market.

After leaving Magnolia, I quickly realized that much like Rumpelstiltskin had effortlessly spun straw into gold; I could easily turn Jell-O pudding into an “exotic” dessert. My German friend Stefanie declared that I had to make her banana pudding at least once a month. When she moved back to Munich, I gave her my mother’s recipe. I expected her overwhelming gratitude but was met with anger. She said, “It is so easy to make. I could have been making this every week. This is worse than the day I found out Rice Krispie treats could be ready in ten minutes.”

Now I will give to you my Mother’s recipe. I will also give you the Magnolia’s bastardized take on banana pudding. You can feel free to do what you will with them.

The Nancy Hanks Myers Banana Pudding
(Keep in mind this recipe is about as original as the pecan pie recipe written on the side of a bottle of Karo syrup.)

A 5oz box of vanilla Jell-O Cook and Serve Pudding (The Nancy speaks: “The big box!!! Yes, Stephanie Leanne…Cook and Serve pudding comes in sizes. Read the box carefully or you wander home with instant pudding.”)
1 bag of Jack’s Vanilla Wafers (Nancy: “You can get other brands.  It just won’t be as good.”)
4 or 5 Bananas
3 Cups of Milk
½ Cup of Sugar
1 Beaten Egg
1 Container of Cool Whip (Writer’s Note: This is one of the few times in life I find Cool Whip to be an acceptable substance to ingest.)

1. In a pretty 8-inch crystal bowl, alternate between slices of bananas and vanilla wafers.  While doing this, do not eat more than 5 or 6 vanilla wafers. You will need all of them. Justify eating 10 vanilla wafers by telling yourself that it was OK because you only ate the broken ones.
2. Make the pudding according to the directions on the box, but add the sugar and the egg. This makes the pudding into more of custard.
3.  When the pudding is ready, pour it over the bananas and vanilla wafers. Place in the refrigerator until cool.
4. Top with Cool Whip.  (Try not to wonder if the body can actually digest Cool Whip.)
5. Give to man you want as a future husband.

The Magnolia Recipe

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
1 3.4-ounce box Jell-O instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups heavy cream
1 12-ounce box vanilla wafers
4 cups sliced ripe bananas (about 3 large bananas)

In a medium bowl (or using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) whisk together sweetened condensed milk and water until blended. Add pudding mix and continue to whisk into fully incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until set, about 3 hours (or you can leave overnight).

Once pudding has set, whip heavy cream in a large bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold pudding into the whipped cream until completely blended. In your serving bowl (or individual serving jars), begin layering vanilla wafers, then bananas, then pudding.  Repeat 3 times, or as many times you need/like to fit your desired serving dish. Garnish pudding with additional wafers or wafer crumbs, cover with plastic wrap and chill for an additional 4 hours.

Do you see what I am talking about?  They didn’t even cook the pudding. What a travesty.