Why banana pudding became a Southern specialty—and where you can get some of the best

A closer look at the crowd-pleasing dessert
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Photo from Bigstock

It’s no secret that Southerners love banana pudding, but bananas hail from the tropics, and the first mention of the layered dessert came not from the South but from the New York Times in 1878, according to food historian Robert Moss for Serious Eats. So why did the dish become a Southern staple? Moss’s theory is simple: Like many other potluck and picnic favorites (pastimes perfected in the South), banana pudding easily feeds a crowd.

  • The first known banana pudding recipe, from an 1888 issue of Good Housekeeping, called for custard layered with sponge cake and sliced bananas, served in a “pretty dish.” In the 1940s, Nabisco began printing a variation of the recipe on its vanilla wafer boxes, establishing the cookie as a key ingredient.
  • Major port cities such as New Orleans and Mobile received some of the country’s first banana shipments in the late nineteenth century, helping to establish the dish’s association with the South.
  • Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern swears by the banana pudding from Miss Myra’s restaurant in Birmingham, declaring it “the best banana pudding in the world.”
  • Every October in Centerville, Tennessee, the National Banana Pudding Festival hosts a cook-off to choose the best banana pudding in America. Visitors also enjoy a Puddin’ Path of locally made platters and a utensil-free banana pudding–eating contest.
  • The dessert made its way to the moon (in freeze-dried form) on the 1969 Apollo 11 mission.
  • Banana pudding was the most-Googled dessert in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Mississippi last summer. (Georgians, however, disproportionately inquired about banana pudding cake.)
  • Jackson Morgan Southern Cream in Fayetteville, Tennessee, makes a buzz-worthy banana pudding cream liqueur. Like the dessert, it’s sweet enough to enjoy neat.

This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Southbound.

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