Sunday, February 10, 2013

State-by-State Redux: VII of X - The Deep South and Southern States Revisited - The Pudding Is Bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

We continue to examine food below the Mason-Dixon Line with a dessert so important in the South that it pops up in some form in every generically Southern cookbook I have encountered, hands down.  That and on the side of your typical box of Nilla Wafers.

Snacking State-by-State Redux VIII of X: The Deep South and Southern States

What are the Southern States?: always includes the former Confederacy (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia); usually includes Kentucky, and West Virginia; sometimes includes Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Oklahoma and southern Missouri.  The US Census also includes Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in its "South Atlantic" Census region, though these territories are not culturally part of the South.
Important Cities: Alexandria, Annapolis, Asheville, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Charleston (SC), Charleston (WV), Charlotte, Dallas, Dover, Houston, Jackson, Jacksonville, Louisville, Memphis, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Norfolk, Orlando, Raleigh, Richmond, San Antonio, Savannah, Tallahassee, Tampa, Tulsa, Washington
Regions and Subregions: Appalachia, Cajun Country, Chesapeake Bay, Deep South, Gulf Coast, Lowcountry, Piedmont
RAFT Nationsbison (central Texas, Oklahoma), chile pepper (western Texas), corn bread & BBQ (northeastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, southern Missouri, northern Louisiana / Mississippi / Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, central Georgia & Florida), chestnut (northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee & Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, southern West Virginia, District of Columbia, central Maryland), clambake (Delmarva peninsula), crabcake (Chesapeake coastline of Maryland & Virginia, Atlantic coasts of: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida), maple syrup (northern West Virginia, western Maryland)
Foods the Region is Best Known For: Southern cuisine - typical dishes include: fried chicken, greens, biscuits, corn bread, Brunswick stew, seafood dishes (catfish, crawfish, blue crab and oyster), okra, many kinds of barbecue, pimento cheese, Moon pies, Appalachian foods (stack cake, pickled ramps), sweet tea, juleps; Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper; banana pudding, pecan pie, chess pie, red velvet cake; Cajun cuisine (gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya); Cuban cuisine (Florida), Tex-Mex & Mexican cuisine (Texas & Oklahoma), multicultural cuisines (major cities throughout the South), African-American cuisine (throughout the South)

When the rest of America thinks of Southern cuisine, it typically thinks of either of two things: fried chicken and barbecue (both of which I have explored in various posts before - fried chicken from Maryland and Tennessee, and barbecue from Missouri, Tennessee, Texas and both halves of North Carolina).  But there's a third thing that is so quintessentially Southern that it deserves just as much notice: banana pudding.

Banana pudding is ubiquitous throughout the Southern United States, even in my marginally Southern corner of the country.  Still, I was actually surprised at just how ubiquitous it is.  I flipped through several cookbooks trying to find potential banana pudding recipes.  Every cookbook had at least one recipe for it, and sometimes several.

I grew up eating banana pudding.  My mother, a busy homemaker in the 80's and 90's, did take shortcuts: sliced, slightly ripe bananas and vanilla wafers covered with box vanilla (and occasionally chocolate!) pudding.  It was a favorite dessert while I was growing up.  For this post, I originally thought it would be nice to interpret Mom's recipe.

She told me she got it from the side of the box.


So off to the box I went.  As I said above, I did also look at various cookbooks, but went with the box anyway.  The recipe I found included something that my mother's banana pudding never included: meringue.  This is not an unusual topping.  In fact, many of the recipes I saw include a meringue topping.  To my surprise, so does the official recipe on the side of the Nilla Wafer box.  This is something my mother apparently missed.  She also missed the recipe for custard from scratch!

But I'll be easy on my mother.  She didn't have the time to make it from scratch or add the meringue.  Heck, it's not like she had to even make it for us at all.

One thing I decided to add to zhuzh this up, since Southerners (and otherners) will go to great lengths to re-interpret their favorite dessert in any way they can: Bourbon.

The Recipe: Bourbon Banana Pudding

To make this banana pudding, with Bourbon, I used the actual recipe on the box (Nabisco, date unknown).

* vanilla wafers (a box costs about $4.50 these days)
* bananas (a bunch ran me about $3)
* sugar (had it)
* salt (same)
* eggs (had them too.  Separate the whites from the yolks)
* flour (had it)
* milk (same)
* salt (had this too)
* vanilla extract (I bought an extra bottle just to be on the safe side.  You can never have too much of this stuff)
* Bourbon (not part of the original recipe; I added about 3 tablespoons to the custard)

Start by putting a layer of vanilla wafers on the bottom of a dessert pan.

Next cut some of your bananas - about half of what you have - on top

Then layer more wafers, then the rest of the sliced bananas, and finally the rest of the wafers.  Use the whole box.  Go on, do it.

Once done, assemble your custard.  In a double boiler (actual or makeshift), mix together the sugar, salt, egg yolks (set aside those egg whites), flour and milk with a whisk over low heat.

Constantly stir for several minutes until it begin to thicken.

Once thickened, whisk in your vanilla and Bourbon.

Mix until blended.

Pour the custard over the banana-wafer mixture and set aside.

Now for those egg whites.  Whip them until form soft peaks.  Yes, I'm using an old, analog egg beater.  Bet you haven't used one of those in a while.

Add sugar and continue to whip until you get stiff peaks instead.

Spread the meringue over the rest of the dessert, sealing the sides to make sure as little of the banana filling peeps out as possible.

Bake in a 350° oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.

It will be nice and browned on the top.

I don't know if my mother has ever had the kind with homemade custard or meringue.  She must have at some point.  Well regardless, she has now, and she liked this.  Full disclosure: I made this on New Year's Eve (yes, I did this two months ago, and typed up this post a few weeks ago from when it posted), and brought it for the family to share while I sat in front of the TV to watch the Twilight Zone marathon and stuff myself with mini-quiches, pigs in a blanket and itty bitty samosas.  And then I got to have delicious, delicious banana pudding.  Mom was supposed to have some surgery on the digestive tract soon after, so this would have been her last meal for about a month.  Then the surgery got postponed, so she got to eat some more.  A lot more.  But we helped her.  A Steel Magnolia can't be expected to eat the whole damn thing, now can she?

- - - - -

We slowly inch towards the Mason-Dixon Line now, as we move out of the South to revisit the food of New England and the Northeast.


Nabisco.  "Original NILLA Banana Pudding".  Date unknown.  Copyright 2013 Mondelēz International. All rights reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia and from the Food Timeline State Foods webpage.