Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Grandpa Jay's Banana Pudding

Do you have a family recipe that can NOT be altered?  No. Matter. What?  This one is ours.  It took me years to ‘perfect’ what seemed to be a very simple recipe that came from my husband’s family.  I’ve posted this for my kids - in our own unadulterated (family) recipe language.  Compare it with your favorite version.

I’ve wanted to post this for a long time, but finally got around to it this past Father’s Day weekend.  Every one of my six children worship this dessert, but it was also my husband’s favorite.  Jay passed away almost 11 years ago this summer - and we still make his favorites and reminisce about what a wonderful husband and father he was.  

I tried to pull out a serving so I could photograph it on Sunday.  Talk about dangerous.  Like jay walking on the freeway.  

When I married into the Petersen family 36 years ago, I was clueless about their family traditions when it came to food.  This “pudding” was raved about by his family.  But to me, it resembled soggy cookies in pie filling.  I couldn’t fathom why  you would destroy a perfectly crunchy vanilla wafer by drowning it in pudding.  And then... they had to bury it in cream.  And - the cream was not sweetened.  Simply weird (in my book).  

The first time I made it - I committed the first of many errors.  I used instant pudding (a big no-no).  Instant pudding didn’t allow the vanilla wafers to absorb the custard-y pudding.  It had to be cook-and-serve pudding.  Check.

The next time I made it - I used too many vanilla wafers.  There has to be just the right amount of cookies in proportion to the amount of pudding you use.  That’s not the end though... I then made it with too MUCH pudding.  I began to see that I couldn’t win at this game.

I also committed the unpardonable sin - layering it with fresh bananas.  After all - isn’t it named “Banana Pudding”?¿!  Fresh bananas are only for those “other” families.

Then I didn’t allow it to refrigerate it overnight.  This is important - as it has to be the correct level of moisture (er...”sogginess”).  That can only be accomplished by giving it a minimum of 8 hours for the cookies to become indistinguishable from pudding.  Check.

The last mistake I made was not covering the pudding when I refrigerated it.  That formed a skin over the cooked pudding and didn’t allow all the moisture to settle into the vanilla wafers.  I was so naive.  

Now, my mistake is not remembering the correct proportion of pudding to cookies.  That is why I’m posting this.  So my kids can make it authentic when they duplicate it in their homes.  

And... one final note - here is how Banana Pudding (in all it’s forms) originated:

First made in the 19th century by Mary Harris Frazer in 1903.  It started out as banana, vanilla custard, vanilla wafers (or ladyfinger biscuits).  After layering those ingredients - it was topped with meringue or whipped cream.  It was layered in either a flat baking dish, or in a trifle bowl.  In all banana pudding versions - it is important to let it rest to allow the “biscuits” to absorb the custard.  It’s made all over the world in different ways, but is most popular in the Southern part of the US.

My kids would protest if I 'decorated' our Banana Pudding this way,
but add your own touches to personalize your version.

Taking Banana Pudding to someone?
Disposable pans make it easy.

For the Petersen version of Banana Pudding - go to:


  1. Hey Aunt Anne, Thanks for posting this. I remember Grandpa Pete bemoaning the time that had passed since he last had some really GOOD Banana Pudding...I can see I would have made all the same heinous blunders you did!
    I have a friend whose birthday is this week and she told me once that her grandma always made her banana pudding for her birthday. I was thinking about making her some, but now I'm thinking banana bread might be safer; fewer variables to mess up on! :)

  2. Thanks Christy - Ah yes - Grandpa Pete lived for Banana Pudding as well! It only took me 25 years to catch on (you have a LONG time yet to perfect it...) Then there was "Christmas Pudding" with the magical sauce...