Traditional Banana Pudding

Banana pudding casts a golden glow upon our lives.  Never have I met anyone who doesn’t like it, but I know in the cockles of my heart that should I ever, my dislike for them will be immediate, profound, and on the spot. I’ll probably stomp on their toe or something.

Like so many treasures on our sideboard, banana pudding, has been corrupted by convenience. What’s most often served as banana pudding is made with cheap cookies, packaged Jell-O, green bananas, and topped with Cool Whip. But in the best traditions of Mid-South cooking, we make banana pudding with Nabisco/Nilla Vanilla Wafers (kinda/sorta the same thing), ripe, fragrant bananas, and a rich vanilla custard, and top it with a sweet baked meringue.

First, the custard. Separate 4 eggs; blend the yolks well with 2 cups whole milk (or, better, half-and-half), and a teaspoon vanilla extract. Put this mix in a double boiler. Combine ½ cup sugar with three tablespoons all-purpose flour, stir into the warm liquid, and cook until thick. Cool.

You’ll need about 5 bananas. I implore you to select bananas well beforehand, because if you can only find bananas that have a tinge of green on them, you can set them on a shelf in the kitchen until they soften and ripen. And, yes, a banana will develop sugars in the pulp after being picked. Wait until the bananas are flecked with brown. Trust me, this is an essential step. An 11 oz. box of wafers has about 40 cookies. Use all of them.

Begin with a layer of custard in the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish, then a layer of wafers, then a layer of sliced bananas. Repeat. Whip whites of six eggs with ¼ cup sugar until stiff. Top pudding with meringue, and place in a very hot oven (400) until lightly browned. Cool thoroughly before serving. This is best made the morning of and refrigerated after.

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