With roadside stands displaying blueberries, and freezers filling up with the blue beauties, it’s only fair to have a craving for a luscious dessert. In my family, we satisfy that desire with a simple but filling dish, passed down through at least four generations – the Bang-belly.
Bang-belly is a dessert my mother says “brings you right through the season.” First rhubarb, then strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and finally blueberries become the basis of the summer dessert-of-desserts for the Giboleaus.
Part pudding, part syrup, part cobbler, part shortcake and wholly delicious, the Bang-belly is not complicated to make. It’s an attainable dessert – a thing of simple beauty – and a perfect dish for the culinary novice.
My mom’s family is from a tiny English-Irish-Scots settlement called Stanley, nestled beside the Nashwaak River in New Brunswick. Food was the focal point of everything during my childhood, from thick molasses cookies my great-aunt Jessie made in a wood-fired oven to the wide variety of rich squares, cakes and pies made by my grandmother, Elsie.
In Stanley, every house has a thick patch of rhubarb. Wild raspberries, blackberries and blueberries and strawberry fields abound there. It’s a natural place for the Bang-belly to originate.
The Bang-belly has mysterious origins. I recall asking my mother where the name came from and she declared, “because we eat it until our bellies go bang!” And when my mother asked her mother the same question, my grandmother replied, “I don’t know. We must have been so hungry when we ate it, that it must have hit our stomachs with a bang.”
To confound things even more, Newfoundland has its own dish called “bangbelly,” a kind of rice pudding made with salt pork, raisins, molasses and a variety of spices.
“Bang-belly is basically a fruit pudding with a drop biscuit, made in a deep casserole dish, with berries or rhubarb served with heavy cream. Not whipped cream, not light cream – heavy cream, which is 40 percent cream,” explains my mother, Mary Gibouleau. “Take, well, however many berries you want to take. Add sweetness and flavor to taste.”
And what about the, rhubarb variation, since it’s far from sweet?
“Well, I keep adding sugar until it’s sweet enough,” my mom says, adding that spices give the dessert a different, more pie-like flavor.
Next, my mother instructs, make “rich, sweet drop biscuits, like you’d use in a shortcake” and drop them onto the fruit pudding. Put the whole thing in the oven until the biscuits are cooked. When it’s done, spoon a biscuit and a generous amount of fruit into a bowl, and pour the heavy cream (not whipped, not light – heavy) over the biscuit.
The result is a rich, sweet dessert that can be served cold on a hot day, and warm, with chilled cream on a cool evening.
Elsie Hickey’s Raspberry Bang-Belly
1 quart of fresh raspberries
2 cups of sugar (or sweeten to taste)
Bring these to a boil on top of stove while preparing biscuits. (Spices may be added too this mixture.)
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons shortening
1 egg, slightly beaten
? cup milk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients, cut in shortening until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. Add egg and milk, blend lightly, until everything pretty much sticks together. Note: biscuit batter is not cake or cookie batter. It should be lumpy. Do not mix it until it is smooth. If you do, I assure you, you will wind up with the equivalent of wheat rocks, which is what I had the first time I made biscuits.
When fruit has been cooked, take large spoonfuls of the biscuit mixture and drop them onto the fruit mix. Place the entire dish, uncovered, into the oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden on top. To test, use a knife to separate a biscuit from the center of the dish, to see if the dough is cooked. Serve hot or cold with the heavy cream.