Friday, March 23, 2012

Comfort in a Canning Jar: Banana Pudding

Sometimes you need a little comfort food.  You need food you recognize...food you can taste long before it hits your lips.  You need food you grew up with that brings you memories and makes you think of home even when home may be far away. 


Banana pudding is one of those foods for me.  My grandma on my mother's side, "Granny" as we call her, always made banana pudding.  It was one of those foods that my cousins and I always looked forward to.  One of my cousins was so obsessed with my granny's banana pudding that he started asking and looking for it as soon as he walked in the door of her house, and she always met the need with a bowl of it in the fridge.  Looking back on it now, that pudding was probably made from a box of instant vanilla layered with wafers and bananas, but at that time, we didn't know any difference and we didn't care.  It was really something special.  In fact, if she made it for us today, it would still be something special, instant pudding and all, because it would have been made for us by someone we love dearly.  That's what comfort food is all about.  And when we get older and can't see those people as often as we would like or they aren't able to provide us with the treats we were so used to when we were young, making that food for yourself can take you home again in ways nothing else can. 


So, here is a version of banana pudding to take you home.  A creamy, made-from-scratch vanilla pudding accented with a little cinnamon and nutmeg and layered with ripe bananas, vanilla wafers, and a billowy cloud of meringue.  It is comfort food at its finest.  Enjoy!

Banana Pudding-  slightly adapted from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Hall Foose

This pudding is good slightly warm or chilled and can be made in 4 pint jars, 8 half-pint jars, or one 2 quart serving dish.  Since this dessert is all about the pudding, use the best quality eggs and vanilla extract you have.

Pudding: 
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup low-gluten flour such as White Lily
1/4 tsp salt
4 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of nutmeg
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2-3/4 of a 12 oz box vanilla wafers (I use Nabisco Nilla)
3 medium ripe bananas, sliced

Meringue:
4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
5 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Pudding:  Heat a few inches of water in a double boiler until boiling.  In the top of the double boiler, whisk the sugar, flour, salt, egg yolks, milk, nutmeg, and cinnamon until smooth.  Whisk constantly for 10-15 minutes until the pudding is thick and coats the back of a spoon.  Remove the pudding from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.  Set the pudding aside.

Place a layer of wafers around the bottom of each jar (about 6 wafers if using pint jars) making sure that some wafers stand up against the side of the jar.  Place several slices of banana on top of the wafers.  Spoon about 1/4-1/2 cup (I use 1/2 cup for pint jars) pudding over the slices in each jar.  Repeat the layers in each jar.  Set the jars aside while you make the meringue.

Meringue:  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and continue mixing, increasing the speed, for 30 more seconds.  Slowly add 1 tablespoon of sugar at a time and continue mixing until soft peaks form.  Spoon the meringue into each jar filling each to the top and smoothing it to the edges.  Place the jars on a baking sheet and bake 4 minutes until the meringue is puffed and the top has browned.  Cool 15-20 minutes before eating it warm or chill for several hours for a cold dessert.          

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