Country Kitchen: Molasses-A Pioneer Food

Country Kitchen: Molasses-A Pioneer Food
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"Slow as molasses in January," was a favorite comment in my childhood whenever we took a long time getting a task done.
Upon hearing that saying today, I recall this sweetening agent that filled a glass jug in our farmhouse pantry. When the jug was empty, Father took it to the local general store where Mr. Knapp filled it from his molasses barrel.

Mother used molasses a great deal in her cooking, especially during World War II when sugar was scarce and rationed. Many of the recipes she gleaned from her mother and grandmother called for molasses or brown sugar as the sweetener.

Molasses in Pioneer Times

Throughout the history of our country, this thick brown syrup called molasses played an important economic role, as well as adding flavor to various dishes. Molasses also was a medicinal ingredient and often considered a "spring tonic."

Housewives often mixed molasses and sulphur. Each member of the family would have their dose of this mixture to purify their blood and make them feel better after the long winter.

Molasses, believed to have originated in the Far East, supposedly was brought to the West Indies by Columbus, or around that era. This was a vital crop in the Indies and necessary to the trade that evolved between those islands and the United States.

Name Derived

The name "molasses" is derived from a Portuguese word, "melaco", and means "resembling honey." This product comes from sugar cane and sorghum. The molasses syrup from sugar cane is separated from the sugar during processing.

Molasses from the sorghum plant is made without any sugar being extracted. Blackstrap molasses results from the third boiling down of the sugar cane. This latter is considered a health food. But it's also used for cattle.

Molasses in Various Recipes

Molasses generally is available as two types for your cooking .light and dark. The light molasses has a more subtle or delicate flavor as well as lighter coloring. It's sometimes used as table syrup, in addition to recipe ingredient.

Dark molasses has a stronger, tangier taste and is darker in color. It's good for cooking and makes a nice addition to dishes calling for spices.

Molasses isn't so popular nowadays as a cooking component as it was during my childhood. However, many recipes are enhanced by the use of this versatile syrup.

You can use it in dishes such as baked beans, barbecued beans, in a barbecue sauce or dessert sauce. Most gingerbread recipes call for molasses, as does Indian pudding, molasses cake and cookies. My father enjoyed both the light and dark over his pancakes in the morning. We often used it to sweeten cooked cereal or to pour over fried hominy (leftover corn meal mush) for breakfast.

AUNTIE'S MOLASSES COOKIES - One of the recipes from the Trails End Quilters.

Stir together 1 cup brown sugar, ½ cup molasses, ½ cup melted shortening, and ½ cup hot water. Add 1 beaten egg and ½ cup chopped raisins.

Sift together 3 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir into the molasses mixture.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. (Add more flour if needed.) Flatten with bottom of a glass that has been dipped in flour.

Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F.) until browned, about 10 minutes.

Article (C) 2005 Mary Emma Allen

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About The Author

Mary Emma Allen researches and writes from her multi-generational NH home. Check out her new site, Tea Time Notes

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