Inspiration is a funny thing, a fleeting, combustible, goosebumps-inducing funny thing. Oddly enough, cakes rarely inspire me. Most often for me, inspiration comes from other art forms: paintings, fashion, sculpture, home and textile design. And, of course, people and their stories always light a creative spark.
A painting, a person and a story inspired this cake.
I carefully picked the last of my backyard blackberries a few days ago, hoping I would receive my copy of the new Mosquito Supper Club Cookbook before they disappeared. And thankfully, it arrived just in time….
Melissa Martin’s cookbook feels like sitting in my great-grandmother’s kitchen, as I desperately tried to decipher the Cajun french banter whirling around my head. With my chin barely over the tabletop, I watched her speckled, calloused hands place a bowl in front of me, as she whispered, “Manger, mon chérie.”
Smiling, my grandmother handed me 2 pieces of paper, photocopies of a handwritten recipe. She knew those papers would make me very happy, as she explained how she came to possess them.
Hanging in my foyer, I have a picture of my grandparents’ first date, a high school basketball game in rural south Louisiana in 1935, a barn in the background, the legs of the rooftop spectators hanging low. My grandmother became a widow at 65, after which she learned to drive and created a whole new life for herself, a life centered around volunteerism and her love for Jesus.
I always feel nostalgic about May 1—today is the first day of my birth month, as well as May Day in France. Did I mention I am a bit of a francophile? Maybe a bit more than a bit, and here’s why….
I remember struggling to take deep breaths, coughing uncontrollably anytime I moved around too much. Having asthma as a child left a mark on me, as did the time I was sent “down the bayou” with my grandparents for a week because my asthma had flared up and both of my parents had to work. I was five years old and my grandparents spoke only French.
I find myself looking for constants during this unfamiliar time, constants like a favorite recipe or time of day, a comforting memory to revisit. South Louisiana springtime remains constant, as do the gardenias blooming and blackberries ripening in my backyard.
The blackberries take me back to picking the sweet and tart berries as a child, in a labyrinth of thorns, guarded by the ickiest bugs and the heat of the sun. The patch that produced the most fruit for us sat a few yards away from my grandparents’ house, and I would spend hours eating and picking, picking and eating, until I decided it was dumpling time, which undoubtedly began as soon as I returned home, lips and fingers stained, belly almost full. The rest of the family anticipated the dumplings, longed for them, but I looked forward to the largest bowl I could find, brimming with blackberries, sprinkled liberally with sugar. I had dreamed about that bowl of sugared berries since I devoured last year’s final bowl, waiting as patiently as a third grader could for those tiny white flowers to morph into black jewels. Last year my husband planted two blackberry vines, the thornless variety, thankfully, in our backyard. We now reap their bounty.