Banana cream pie is a culinary work of art. A variation of an old-fashioned custard pie, it is a glorious combination of vanilla custard, sliced bananas and whipped cream lovingly layered in a graham cracker shell.
It is no surprise that in 1951, banana cream pie was named the armed forces’ favorite dessert. Also not much of a surprise is that pastry chefs, forever in search of the penultimate dessert, have dressed up their banana cream pies with everything from dark chocolate curlicues to butterscotch drizzles.
It’s hard to pin down the origin of banana cream pie, but it might have come from the Midwest, where pies have always been popular. As far as we can tell, adding bananas to the pie happened around the end of the 19th century, when bananas went from exotic to commonplace.
Until then, most Americans have never seen, never mind eaten, a banana. The turning point in the banana business came with technological advances in transportation and refrigeration. Steamships and railroad cars brought the fruit to market faster, and refrigeration slowed the ripening process.
The combination was a bonanza for the industry. Bananas were touted as healthy fruits in germproof wrappers; they were cheap and available year-round.
Cooks were encouraged to try them in recipes, but most people are happiest eating sliced bananas on cold cereal. Bananas are the number one fruit eaten in the United States. At last count, every American eats about 80 bananas a year; we bet plenty find their way into this pie recipe.
—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.