The greatest of all laws is the Law of Unintended Consequences, and one of the unintended consequences of The Great Incarceration has been my rediscovery of the gastronomic pleasures my youth, and the greatest of these gastronomic pleasures has been banana custard.

I was born in 1947 and grew up during, what is universally agreed, was an era of unparalleled dreariness. It was grey. It was dingy. It was dull. And the food was bloody awful. Rationing went on until 1954. And the imagination of most domestic cooks was as limited as the ingredients they had to work with.

Into this world came banana custard, which had the dual attraction of being exotic – bananas had been all but unobtainable during the war (There’s a famous story of Laura, Evelyn Waugh’s wife, getting hold of three bananas. The ghastly man summoned his children, placed all three fruits on his own plate, and in front of them, ladled on cream, which was almost as rare as bananas and sugar, which was rationed, and scoffed the lot on the grounds that, as they’d never eaten bananas, they wouldn’t know what they were missing) – as well as soothing. The custard would have been Bird’s for preference (I only learned about the etherial, silky pleasure of custard made with real milk and real eggs years later), more of a blanket than a cream, and blissfully sweet. It had glamour. It was sensuous. It comforted. There was a second helping.

Somethings haven’t changed change. Even if the custard is now Waitrose Madagascar Vaniila version, and I’ve added a light sprinkling of Demerara sugar for crunch (and extra sweetness), the delight is undimmed.


  1. I think that one of my first forays into dessert was indeed a banana custard!| I was working at the FAO in Rome, and the Commissary there sold such ‘basics’ as BIrd’s custard and Horlicks, ha ha. Mind you, I was a lot more into cigarettes at that time. Imagine my surprise, then, when years I learned how easy it was to make ‘crema pasticcera’ – custard by another name – using fresh eggs and mik and sugar. IBird’s had been my standard. As for Waugh – wuah, what a creep towards his own children!

  2. It’s true. What is it about life in captivity that induces these atavistic cravings? In my case it’s for suet. In the last fortnight, I’ve made and enjoyed a jam roly-poly, apple dumplings and a leek pudding. Living in Italy, I hadn’t thought about, still less eaten, such delicacies for decades. Dreamt about a steak and kidney pudding last night.

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