Bryana Wilson Summer 2018 Blog – A History of Banana Pudding
by Bryana Wilson, September 12, 2018
Relation to Banana Pudding
Deciding on a singular dessert that I hold dear is a daunting task – there are so many that simultaneously bombard my brain. Of the many confections that came mind, the “aha” moment arrived when I got to banana pudding. This dessert lies somewhere in my top five favorites. With many desserts, what makes this one significant is its novelty. Banana pudding is made in a large quantity and is therefore better suited for groups of people. Growing up, the frequency of this dessert being made was limited to parties, therefore I could only depend on special occasions to get my fix and to make matters worse this dessert seemed to be reserved for the warmer seasons.
This dessert combines two baking and pastry techniques that we covered this term; it is a simple dessert consisting of layers of custard (or Jell-O instant pudding), fresh bananas and vanilla wafers, all topped with billowy clouds of lightly toasted meringue. I have had many variations, all good in their own right, but this preparation is my favorite. Drawing from my own observations, banana pudding tends to be synonymous with southern culture. My family has lived in Illinois for as long as I can remember, but going back several generations my family originates from Alabama and Arkansas. For the purpose of this blog, I would like to identify the origins of a dessert that has been prepared over decades long enough to have made it to my 21st century palate.
First, taking a look at the banana, this presently ubiquitous fruit wasn’t introduced to the new world until the 15th and 16th century (Baron, n.d.). It wasn’t until the 19th century, post Civil War that Americans developed a palate for them ( Baron, n,d). Utilizing the steam ship and railroads, America imported the fruit from the Caribbean and Central/South America, enabling the U.S. to corner a newfound market (Baron, n.d). As bananas became readily available and cost efficient, their use in recipes became popularized by writers and educators – appearing in newspaper columns and cookbooks (Moss, n.d.).
Rise and Transformation
According to Moss (n.d.), one of the first recipes for banana pudding can be traced back to 1888 in a Massachusetts newspaper periodical, Good Housekeeping (A Modern American Dessert, para. 6). Much like a traditional English Trifle, the dish called for a layering of custard, sponge cake or ladyfingers, fruit and whipped topping all assembled in a glass serving dish displaying each decadent layer (Moss, n.d.). By the 1890’s, banana pudding recipes and all their variations were in large circulation with the sponge cake recipe being the most popular (Moss, n.d.). A majority of the earlier variations didn’t call for baking, but there were some that incorporated a meringue topping which needed to baked for browning; there were even some variations that weren’t so much of a pudding, but rather a gelatin mould with bananas incorporated (Moss, n.d.). Banana pudding as I’ve come to know it wasn’t introduced until 1920 – replacing the sponge cake layers with vanilla wafers (Moss, n.d.). Moss (n.d.) tells us that the cookie, biscuit and cracker company, Nabisco, was already producing the cookie by 1900, but it wasn’t until Mrs. Laura Kerley submitted her recipe to the Bloomington, Illinois Pantagraph – calling for a pound of the Nabisco cookie (The Industrial Wafer Revolution, para. 3). By the 1940’s, Nabisco’s Nilla Wafers and banana pudding went hand-in-hand when they started printing the recipe on the side of their boxes (Moss, n.d).
What Makes It Southern
In my research for the dessert’s ties to the south, it was unclear how it became synonymous with the region. A recipe for the dessert could be found in publications across the entire country, it wasn’t particular to any region in the early 1900’s. Looking at Moss’s (n.d) research of how frequently banana pudding was referenced in southern printed publications, there was only a 10.81% rate of occurrence in 1910 (Banana Pudding Becomes a Southern Icon, para. 5). By the 1930’s this percentage increased to a 50% occurrence and by the 1980’s this frequency of reference in publications rose to 83.78% (Moss, n.d.). Observing a 70 year timeline, the association of the dessert with southern publications was insignificant in previous years compared to down the line. The cause for this increase was inconclusive. There are many theories as to why this might have occurred, but they are only based on speculation.
Though I was unable to find the exact correlation between banana pudding and southern culture, I was still pleased to find that it has a long lineage in American culture. This dessert has ties back to early European culture, but in its modern form has a uniquely American twist incorporating Nilla Wafers, Jell-O pudding, or Cool Whip (sometimes all three). As a stickler for homemade I will always prefer the meringue and custard based recipes, but contrary to this idea, I also demand the use of Nilla Wafers. Let it be known that I don’t believe there is bad banana pudding – I will always eat it no matter what because any variation will bring me back to those fond moments of celebration and familiarity.
Baron, Matthew. (n.d.). A history of bananas. Retrieved from https://gourmetnutsanddriedfruit.com/a-history-of-bananas/amp
Moss, Robert. (n.d.). How banana pudding became a southern icon. Retrieved from https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/03/history-southern-banana-pudding.html