While driving down the long, dusty road to Lacassine, Louisiana, cleared sugarcane fields revealed new life from the rich soil and a mellow, sweet fragrance filled the warm air. I imagined the empty field later in the year, taking over the landscape with its towering pampas-like foliage. As I became entranced by the pale jade landscape, we crept closer and closer to my great grandma’s house.
I tiptoed across the tiny, white shells in my great grandmother’s driveway and peaked around the corner of her small, whitewashed house and stepped into the garden. To me, this was an enchanted backyard, filled with life from one end of the tiny lot to the other. Strategically placed rows of perfectly ripe tomatoes and fingerlike okra pods smelled of sweet grass as I walked by. Tiny yet vibrant red and green peppers pirouetted in the breeze, reminding me of flickering Christmas lights. A protective fig tree magically became the perfect umbrella to take refuge under in the midst of afternoon showers, and near the back of the property, there was a gaggle of disgruntled chickens that became ruffled around the feathers if you got too close to their coop.
On this particular trip, I decided to keep my distance from the foul fowls and kept to the side of the house, close to my grandmother. She was reaching over her head, picking what looked like spotted yellow basketballs. Quietly and curiously, I filled as many plastic shopping bags with the enormous unidentified fruit as I could and piled into the backseat of the car. I remember how the combination of the saccharine air from the sugarcane fields and the fresh scent of the mysterious citrus resting on my lap made my mouth water.
Immediately when we got back to the house, my grandma grabbed a large carving knife and split the colossal clandestine citrus in half, revealing blushing pink flesh. My grandma smiled proudly and said in her sweet Cajun accent, “Dat’s a biiggg grapefruit!” My mouth dropped in sheer disbelief, and we both started laughing and began ripping into the slightly sweet and tart flesh.
With a mouthful of ruby grapefruit and pink juice dribbling down my chin, I wondered what the secret was to the gigantic, sugary grapefruits that grew in my great grandmother’s backyard. Suddenly, I recalled the soft, spring breeze coming from the sugarcane field across the way and became sweetly satisfied in solving the mystery of the prodigious grapefruits.
Recipe: Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake
Slightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 1 Loaf Cake
Note: If you don’t have plain yogurt or buttermilk in the fridge, have no fear. Just add 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice to 1/3 cup of milk and let it sit on the counter for 5 minutes to get nice and funky! It works perfectly in a pinch!
Using the zest and juice from 2 medium-sized grapefruits for this recipe usually makes enough leftover juice for a simple glaze. Just whisk ½ cup of powdered sugar while slowly adding the leftover grapefruit juice until you have a smooth, thick glaze. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and serve!
1 ½ cups (190g) of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
¼ teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
2 tablespoons (30ml) of grapefruit juice, plus 1/3 cup (80ml) for syrup
1/3 cup (80ml) of buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 tablespoons of freshly grated grapefruit zest (from 2 medium-sized grapefruits)
½ cup (100g) of granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for syrup
½ cup (95g) of raw cane sugar
½ cup (120ml) of olive oil (choose a mild olive oil, not extra virgin)
2 eggs, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×5” loaf pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a glass-measuring cup, combine 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice and buttermilk (or yogurt).
In a large mixing bowl, add grapefruit zest, ½ cup of granulated sugar, and raw cane sugar. Rub the zest and sugars together with your fingertips. Whisk in the oil until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and whisk until combined. Scrape down the bowl.
Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the cake batter, beginning and ending with the flour.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and tap the pan on the counter a few times, releasing any bubbles in the batter. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
Meanwhile, combine remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with 1/3 cup of grapefruit juice in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
When the cake has finished baking, let it cool for 10 minutes and invert onto a cooling rack with a tray underneath. Poke holes in the cake with a skewer or toothpick and brush the grapefruit syrup over the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely while absorbs the syrup. Serve the cake all by itself or create simple glaze to pour over the top (see note). Enjoy!