Monday January 13, 2014 | 09:14 AM

          Molasses served delicious nutritional purposes for Franco-Americans who grew up in generations of large families. This dark syrup was a sweet staple of the Franco-American kitchen. Memeres, ma tantes and mamas creatively added la mélasse to recipes, especially when preparing food to serve from six to over a dozen hungry people, three times a day.

            Many of the home cooked recipes Franco-Americans grew up eating with la mélasse are just as delicious today, as they once were, when large families were stretching food budgets.

            La mélasse continues to be a popular ingredient in Franco-American recipes because it’s inexpensive while providing an excellent source of quick energy, iron and other nutrients. Also, the syrup’s mild laxative health benefits were commonly known.

For Saturday night baked beans, la mélasse was essential to sweeten the recipe. Also, it’s delectably tasty in desserts like cake, cookies and taffy.

As a stand alone dessert, Franco-American families often dipped bread in la mélasse at the end of a meal, to satisfy cravings for something sweet after dinner.

In my husband’s family, growing up in the 1940’s in Sanford, ME, la mélasse dessert was often a reward for when the children ate all the food served to them on dinner plates. After their dishes were empty, the children turned their plates upside down for la mélasse. This was a signal to allow mama to pour a dollop of la mélasse in the plate’s center.

Leftover bread was dipped in the sweet syrup, thereby creating a fun tradition following eating all the food served at the dinner table.

La Melasse stand alone dessert after dinner

Franco-American families enjoyed the tradition of dipping bread in molasses following dinner, as a reward to the children who finished all the food they were served.

It’s easy to prepare recipes with la mélasse. Today, our family uses la mélasse to flavor slow cooker baked beans, served with a side of fresh ginger molasses cake (en français mélasse gâteau avec du gingembre frais épice). 

La Mélasse gâteau is typically a dessert, but I tend to cut up small slices of it as an alternative to bread, when serving baked beans. As a matter of fact, mix slices of cornbread, la mélasse gateau and baguette presented on the serving table in a bread basket creates a tri-color selection of sides when serving generous helpings of beans. 

La Melasse gateau

La melasse gateau is a tasty accompaniment to baked beans.

Although there are plenty of recipes for la mélasse gâteau available, I found a favorite published in a 1955, French Acadian cookbook from Louisiana. I’ve adapted this particular recipe to our family’s collection because it doesn’t call for adding coffee to the list of ingredients. Additionally, I modified the recipe to include the addition of a heaping amount of freshly grated ginger, rather than the prepared dried spice. There’s a delicious world of difference in the smell and taste of la mélasse gateau when fresh ginger (gingembre frais) is used to prepare la mélasse gâteau. Fortunately, most grocery departments now carry fresh ginger because it’s popular in contemporary stir fry recipes.  (Fresh ginger and garlic are staples in my pantry for lots of other recipes as well.)

This recipe for la mélasse gateau, prepared for this blog, is adapted from Mrs. St. Paul Bourgeois, III, from Jeannerette, Louisiana.

French Acadian cookbook published 1970 Louisiana

Published by The Louisiana Handicraft Museum, In., Jennings, LA 1955

La mélasse gâteau avec gingembre frais

2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon powdered cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger or more to taste

¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup soft butter

½ cup granulated sugar

1 medium egg

1 cup molasses

1 cup hot water

Grease a 9 inch square pan with butter or shortening.

Line the bottom of the baking pan with waxed paper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, salt and butter, add the fresh ginger.  Thoroughly mix the ingredients with the sugar adding the egg and mixing until the batter is light and fluffy.  Finally, beat in the molasses.  Beat in alternately, just until smooth, the flour mixture and the hot water.  Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake 50-55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes our clean. (Check for doneness at 50 minutes). Remove from the pan, peel off the waxed paper, cool on a rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Note, chopped pecans and raisins may also be added to this recipe.

Bon appétit! 

About this Blog

Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.

Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.

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