…and Gardenia Ice Cream

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.”  

I recall the smells.  I recall the steam wafting up.  I could not yet see what graced that bowl, but my mouth, watering, would not wait long for a taste.  

Oyster Soup.  Shrimp Spaghetti.  Smothered Okra.  White Beans and Rice.  Pickled Banana Peppers.  Crawfish Étouffée. Duck Jambalaya.  Blackberry Dumplings.  Tarte à la Bouille. 

Most of what appeared on her table she had picked herself in the garden, with the meat and seafood harvested by my great-grandfather or any of the neighbors who returned from the bayou or the swamp or the gulf with a bounty.

Often, the only thing that would lure me out of my great-grandfather’s trapping shed, crammed with handmade tools and long thin boards he used to stretch out and dry his mink pelts, were the smells coming from the kitchen.

I lost them both when I was ten, three months apart from one another.  No recipes remained.  I am not even certain she knew how to read or write.   

So for years I have pieced together recipes in an attempt to recreate her food, the most reliable sources being local cookbooks, most produced by small church groups. Many Cajun cookbooks originate in Southwest Louisiana, rooted in the recipes of that region.  But my Cajun experience exists in Southeast Louisiana, where the Cajun dishes differ somewhat to those farther west.  

Enter Melissa Martin’s Mosquito Supper Club Cookbook, whose cuisine is based just miles away from where I ate my great-grandmother’s food in Lafourche Parish, one parish over, in Terrebonne.  Martin’s recipes and experiences hold a familiarity that excited me from the first page and an authenticity that lends substance to each recipe.  Her storytelling, her recipes, her love of the bayou and her desire to bring attention to its fragility are all valid reasons to buy this cookbook.  But for me, the acknowledgement she gives to the women in her life, from her mother to her aunts to her neighbors, hits home—strong women getting the praise they deserve always wins.  Martin dedicates the book to her mother: “For my Mom, Maxine M. Martin, who made feeding six kids her full-time job.”   That job laid the groundwork for and lead directly to the creation of this important book, a must for anyone wanting to learn more about Cajun culture and the disappearing Louisiana coastline.

Need one more reason to seek out the book?  Denny Culbert’s photography graces these pages, completing the story that Martin’s words begin.  This pairing creates magic.

Blackberry Dumplings with Gardenia Ice Cream and Pie Crust Crumbles

I have searched for a worthy pairing for Gardenia Ice Cream, and I have found it.  

The Blackberry Dumpling recipe alone is reason enough for getting your hands on the Mosquito Supper Club Cookbook (which you can do here).  The recipe blends a dough much like a biscuit dough, enriched with egg, and stewed, sweetened blackberries, flavored with bay leaf. 

Rounds of the dough poach in the stewed blackberries until firm.  Blackberry dumplings do not create the best first impression (it’s not a pretty dessert), but they make up for that in flavor and texture. 

For the Pie Crust Crumbles, I simply rolled out a small piece of my favorite pie crust (I like those of Dorie Greenspan and Zoë François), layered between two sheets of parchment.  That is then placed between two cookie sheets and baked in an oven preheated to 375ºF, baking for 18-20 minutes, until uniformly golden and crispy. Using a sharp knife, carefully chop the crust into very small shards and crumbs. They make a great contrast to the smooth ice cream.

The combination of blackberry and gardenia, once again (see my post “Blackberries and Gardenias” here), creates an ode to the fleeting Louisiana spring.

Gardenia Ice Cream

This is as simple as ice cream gets—three ingredients and no churn.  And delicious.

Ingredients:

1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2 cups heavy cream

8 gardenia blossoms, thoroughly washed

Method:

  1. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, with enough overhang to completely encase the top when folded over.  Freeze. 
  2. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a small bowl. Add 4 of the gardenia blossoms, stirring the blossoms into the milk.  Set aside on the counter to steep, about an hour, stirring occasionally.
  3. Pour the heavy cream into a small bowl, adding the remaining 4 gardenia blossoms.  Stir, cover and refrigerate.  Let the blossoms steep for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
  4. Strain the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer (using a hand mixer will work as well)—discard the gardenia blossoms.  Fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until fairly stiff peaks form.
  5. Strain the condensed milk into a medium-sized bowl—discard the gardenia blossoms.  Add 1/3 of the whipped cream to the condensed milk, combining quickly to lighten the mixture.  Add the remaining cream, folding gently to combine and retaining as much air as possible.
  6. Gently pour the mixture into the frozen loaf pan, evening it out with a rubber spatula, then covering with plastic wrap.  Freeze for at least 4 hours, better overnight.

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