Lafayette woman specializes in old recipes, techniques

Grandmother’s techniques used in cookbooks

Color/Paper“I did exactly as my grandmother did 100 years ago. Everything I bake at these festivals is how my grandmother did it.” Color/PaperDenise harding

Denise Harding vividly recalls watching her grandmother cooking in her house on Sydney Martin Road in north Lafayette, coffee brewing in a corner and delicious goodness simmering on the stove.

It was Anais Mouton-Martin, the wife of the Sydney Martin for whom the road is named, who taught Harding the love of good cooking, which included using chicken from the henhouse and fresh vegetables from the garden.

Her uncle, Chester Martin, even ground his own dried sassafras leaves to make filé powder.

“My earliest memory is cooking and being fascinated by the process,” Harding said.

Harding loved replicating her family recipes at festivals and special events. She used organic butter, pecans from her father’s trees and raw sugar from the Breaux Bridge mill just like her grandmother did decades before.

She sold rarely seen pastries of yesteryear and demonstrated the art of making cracklin’ cornbread.

“I did exactly as my grandmother did 100 years ago,” Harding said. “Everything I bake at these festivals is how my grandmother did it.”

People tasted her offerings and reminisced about their family recipes, Harding said, so Uncle Chester encouraged her to write down her grandmother’s recipes, with the old Cajun and Creole cooking techniques from a bygone era.

The result was “Memoire Doux (Sweet Memories): Cajun and Creole Pastry Recipes.”

An example of an unusual recipe is Praline du Bené, or Sesame Seed Pralines.

Sydney Martin grew sesame seeds on his north Lafayette property, then toasted them and used them in pralines and other candies, Harding said.

When she researched the recipe for the book, Harding found out that many farmers in Carencro grew sesame seeds at one time.

“Really, it’s like I’m a food historian,” Harding said. “Because no one has seen these recipes for years.”

Other recipes include cracklin’ cornbread, peach pie, pear cake, pecan bread, molasses doughnuts, Creole rice cakes, petites gateau secs (little dry teacakes) and anise cookies, which Harding describes as “an old Acadian favorite.”

Another favorite is “La Colle,” an old Creole recipe combining molasses and pecans in a concoction once sold on street corners, according to Harding’s cookbook.

In addition to her job as pastry chef at Lafayette’s La Madeleine, Harding still demonstrates these old recipes at festivals, cooking up items such as beignets, stone-ground grits, gumbo and corn meal at events such as the Sugar Fest in Port Allen and the Sweet Dough Pie Festival in Grand Coteau.

At the Sweet Dough Pie Festival, she took second place in the professional division for her 100-year-old recipe for Syrup Sweet Dough Pie With Fig Filling.

Since the publication of “Memoire Doux,” Harding has published a second cookbook, “Cajun & Creole Cooking,” and sells her pralines in special tins that she makes at home in the shadow of her grandmother’s house; she lives next door to the old Sydney Martin homestead.

In her yard is a lavish garden and fruit trees to supply ingredients for her cooking, just as her grandmother Anais had.

Harding’s cookbooks are available at the Louisiana Marketshops at the 115 in Breaux Bridge and at Prejean’s Restaurant in Carencro.