Jackson resident Tina Greenwood Frye’s banana pudding recipe recently won fourth place at the National Banana Pudding Cookoff held October 7-8 in Centerville, Tennessee.
Cooks from across the United States submit their recipes and only 10 finalists are chosen. Frey’s Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Pudding made the cut.
“I love chocolate and my husband loves my banana pudding, so I decided to try making a chocolate one,” Frey said. “Every cook is supposed to put their own spin on banana pudding.”
Frey also incorporated the Texas Roadhouse Honey Butter recipe, then added Nutella.
The festival is located just outside of Grinders Switch, Tennessee, home of Minnie Pearl of Grande Ole Opry and Hee Haw. Frey and her husband Doug decided to enjoy the festival and visit the area and not focus on winning the pageant.
When the Freys arrived at the festival, she and the other contestants were given the rules and directed to their small individual kitchen, which consisted of a gas stove and access to electricity. Like any real cook, she brought her blender, pots and bowls from home. Eggs, bananas, milk and vanilla wafers were provided.
Frey was disappointed that the cookies were a store brand.
“Next time I’ll bring my own cookies,” she said. “Nilla wafers are the best and you can definitely taste the difference.”
Cooks have one hour to create two batches of their recipe; one in their personal dish and one in a special Banana Pudding Festival jar that is auctioned off.
“It doesn’t take long to make pudding, but my pudding wasn’t setting, so I started to worry,” she said. “It looked like hot chocolate. I waited 20 seconds and it fell into place.
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Then she started making her signature meringue only for her to deflate. Rather than panic, she placed the meringue on the pudding dishes, pressed the dishes firmly into the small oven, and browned the top of the meringue.
“They say if you use a stainless steel bowl and a stainless steel mixer, your meringue will set up quickly,” Frye said. “It didn’t! I kept peeking through the (oven) door and then decided, this is what it is and pulled it out.
The festival is all about banana pudding, but it has started making money for non-profit organizations. The public buys tickets to sample all the pudding entrees. Frye’s recipe sold for $140, the highest bid of the day.
The first, second and third place winners were announced, and Frye was disappointed not to have won the top prize. But on the way back to Jackson, her husband encouraged her to ask for a score sheet. (He judged barbecue contests for about 15 years and knew the marks would help him improve the next year.) That’s when she found out his marks had earned him the fourth place.
Frey has already entered next year’s contest with a new recipe: white chocolate banana macadamia nut pudding.
When asked where she learned her cooking skills, Frey said she learned herself as a young housewife by watching cooking shows on PBS and reading cookbooks.
“Growing up, my mom, Maggie Greenwood, worked all the time, but my dad was the one who wanted meat, vegetables and bread on the table,” she said. “Mom taught me how to bake cookies and cornbread, but that was the extent of my cooking skills.”
Frey’s specialty is cakes, but her arthritis has slowed, but not stopped, her secondary baking.
“When I worked for Dan Fears Jr., his dad found out I could cook and he paid me $50 a week to bake him a coconut cake every week,” she said. “And, the ladies at the bank were ordering and I was making red velvet and German chocolate cakes and pumpkin pies on the holidays.”