Those of you who live in Southern states will be happy to know that the frigid North has seen an influx of new restaurants influenced by Southern food traditions in the past few years. New York City has plenty of fried chicken and BBQ joints now in hip neighborhoods like Williamsburg. In Boston, Top Chef alum Tiffany Faison opened Sweet Cheeks Q with southern style BBQ, fried green tomatoes and biscuits dripping with honey butter. Chef Andy Husbands is a well known pitmaster in Boston who recently closed his Tremont 647 and now concentrates on his two The Smoke Shop locations (so far) with BBQ, fried chicken and catfish. Up in Portland there’s Salvage BBQ and even in the smaller towns “Downeast” there are new Southern-influenced spots like Ore Nell’s in Kittery with its Central Texas BBQ emphasis and across the border in New Hampshire, there’s Shane’s Texas Pit. Yes, all over the country, Southern food shines.

Southern food is much more nuanced than they see up north,  of course. Like all food traditions, the dishes region vary within regions and even within families. There are some commonalities, however. Fried chicken, cornbread, brisket and ribs, each done differently depending on who your grandparents were and where they hailed from. That goes for dessert, too, and in Texas you’ll see a lot of cobblers and pecan pie but also banana pudding, creamy, sweet  and many prepared just like the delicious version chef Will Myska is whipping up at Ore Nell’s Barbeque in Kittery. There are even banana pudding festivals in Georgia and Tennessee.

At its most basic, vanilla custard, those great Nilla Wafers from our youth and meringue or whipped cream are mingled with ripe bananas in various ways, usually layered so that the wafers absorb the custard, cream and banana so all the flavors merge as one. It’s just bananas, pudding, then wafers and the same three once again, then some meringue or whipped cream. You might want to also top it or add to the layers something with a little crunch like walnuts or toffee.

Try out these recipes I’ve tried over the years for easy, inexpensive banana pudding. I’ve seen many variations including using Lorna Doone or homemade shortbread cookies instead of vanilla wafers and adding cream cheese and condensed milk to the mix, too. Topping with toasted coconut or shavings of chocolate or cocoa nibs are more tasty options. 

Easy  Banana Pudding

1 large package instant vanilla pudding

2 1/2 c. cold milk

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 16-oz. container whipped topping or whipped cream

3 bananas, sliced and one more for topping

30 vanilla wafer cookies


Mix pudding and milk, then add condensed milk. Blend well and fold in half of the whipped topping.

Toss the 3 sliced bananas with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. In individual dessert dishes or a big a serving bowl alternate layers of pudding, banana slices, and vanilla wafers, then top with the remaining whipped topping.

Refrigerate overnight, then garnish with banana slices and whatever else you like before serving.

Make your pudding from scratch

You can make the banana pudding aspect for all of these recipes entirely from scratch, too. This recipe uses a banana liqueur and I suggest Gifford's Creme Banane Du Brasil if you can find it. You can also use banana flavoring.

To make the pudding:

5 large egg yolks

1/2 c. sugar

1/4 c. cornstarch

1/4 t. salt

2 c. whole milk

3 T. banana liqueur (or 1 teaspoon banana flavoring)

2 t. vanilla extract

2 T unsalted butter

2 ripe bananas

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a bowl and set aside. Bring the milk to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and whisk a little at a time into the egg mixture.

When  the bottom of the bowl is warm, whisk in the remaining hot milk very slowly. Pour the mixture back into a clean medium saucepan, then add the  banana liqueur and then whisk over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Whisk continuously while cooking until the pudding is thick, smooth and glossy, about 2 more minutes. Transfer to a clean bowl.

Add the vanilla and butter and whisk gently  until the butter is completely melted and mixed in. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming, then refrigerate for 4 hours.

Use in your favorite mix of toppings and wafers.

Banana Pudding with Meringue topping

I like to make the heat up pudding rather than the instant sometimes and this recipe makes it easy.


Two 3-ounce packages of vanilla cook and serve pudding

4 and 1/2 c. milk

3 eggs, separated

42 vanilla wafers

3 large bananas, sliced

Dash of cream of tartar

1/3 c. sugar


Heat oven to 350°F.

Beat pudding mixes and milk in medium saucepan until blended. Beat egg yolks in small bowl until blended and then gradually stir into milk mixture. Bring to full rolling boil on medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Arrange a layer of wafers on bottom and up side of 2-qt. baking dish. Top with layers of 1/3 of the pudding and then half the banana slices. Repeat those  layers and then cover with remaining pudding.

For the meringue, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in medium bowl with mixer on high speed until foamy, then beat in sugar gradually until stiff peaks form. Spread this over pudding ot the edge of the dish.

Bake 15 min. or until meringue is browned, then cool. .


Rich Banana Pudding for a Crowd

Cream cheese and condensed milk make this banana pudding very rich, but you deserve it. 

1 8 oz. block of cream cheese, room temperature

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 5 oz.  package instant vanilla pudding

2 1/2 c. cold milk

2 t. vanilla

8 oz.heavy cream, whipped

4 ripe bananas, sliced

10 ounces vanilla wafers or shortbread cookies

With a food processor or sturdy whisk,  mix the cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk together until smooth. Add in the pudding mix, milk and vanilla. Mix on slow for one minute, then turn up to high and mix for about 5 minutes until smooth and thickened.

Whip your heavy cream into whipped cream and fold half into the pudding. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass pan with the cookies in one layer. Place the banana slices on top of the cookies. Spread the pudding on top of the bananas, then spread the other half of the whipped cream on top of that. Crush some cookies and sprinkle on top of it all. Chill for 3 hours.

— Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Exeter, NH Austin, TX. She can be reached by e-mail at