Updated: Jan 11
Though we'll take all the credit you'll give us, it's not just the people of Louisiana that makes this place special. Mother Nature is known to play favorites, and baby are we up there on the list. Sure, we may have summers that swelter and spur hoards of mosquitoes, but that very same wet and mucky ecosystem also yields a bounty of produce and a plethora of wildlife we've been all too happy to benefit from for 300 years now. For the last few million years, ol' Mama Nature has been sweeping up all sorts of nutritious bits from the 10 states the Mississippi River passes through and drops off these vegetation vitamins in our delta. It's no wonder, then, that our produce is beyond compare, or that Bayou Lafourche was once known as the "Longest Main Street in the World".
One particular jewel in this Garden of Eden's crown is Ponchatoula, Louisiana, home of the annual Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. The grounds here are holy to the farmers that truck in loads of strawberries to neighborhood grocery stores, weekly markets, and seasonal festivals. Berries from this alluvial land are praised for their superior sweet and almost meaty texture. I can't help but buy a flat at a time, eat them as is until I cant take it anymore, then happily scramble to use the rest before they go bad. The muffin recipe below is a prayer of thanks to those overripe berries that uses deep, round molasses to highlight their natural sweetness. The molasses also helps the muffins stay fresher longer, so don't be afraid to make a double batch and share the wealth with your neighbors.
One more quick note- if you’re already thinking to yourself “As if I’m going to go out and buy molasses like it won’t sit in my cabinet for a year before I throw it away…,” then know that 1) molasses is delicious and will make the berries taste better, not just sweeter and 2) don’t worry. I did it, and now I’m determined to find other ways to use this jar up. I’ll share what works with you! I’m thinking of tackling greens next…
Strawberry Molasses Muffins
1 1/2 cups flour (you can substitute ½ cup whole wheat flour for a little more oomph)
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
¼ cup milk or cream
3 T molasses, honey, or maple syrup
1 t vanilla
¼ cup melted butter or olive oil, plus more for greasing
For the berries:
1 pint strawberries, sliced
3 T light brown sugar
½ t salt
1. In a small bowl, mash the sliced strawberries, sugar, and salt with your fingers. Let sit for 20 minutes.
2. Grease a muffin tin generously with softened butter or olive oil.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Make a well in the middle. Add the wet ingredients to the well and mix with a fork until combined.
4. Pour in the strawberries and molasses into the center of the flour. Gently stir all ingredients together until just combined (a few small lumps are ok).
5. Divide the batter evenly between muffin tins, filling each cup ¾ of the way. Preheat the oven to 350 °.*
6. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until lightly brown. Allow to rest in the tins for five minutes before removing.
*I know it seems silly to preheat the oven after the batter is ready, but the muffins will rise better if allowed to rest before baking.