[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Image via Ruth Gonzalez"][/caption]
There were countless jars of molasses boxed and ready for sale in the Doubletree Farm sugar shack, all printed with the same three words on the right side of their label: THEM ARE GOOD! After a week and a half of helping the Bennett family produce this season's final two batches of sorghum syrup [see the latest Independent for more], I asked Cathy the significance of the slogan. Well, when the Bennett family moved to the North Carolina foothills of the Appalachian twelve years ago, hardly anybody stillhad the setup to make molasses the old-timer way. As they brought back the infrastructure, the home industry followed, and they now cook sorghum syrup for several other local farms and families, totaling around 15 batches a year. They keep a low profile with their sales pitch, packing up a few boxes and recipe booklets each week to bring to the Asheville Tailgate Farmers Market. As the old-timers come across their table, they'll see the jars and stop to ask "Whatcha got there? Molasses? Well, are they any good?" And Cathy or the kids, ever ready to share the joys of sorghum via a bear-shaped bottle of syrup, will offer them a sample of golden sweetener spread on a bite of apple. "Are they any good?" is always the question because molasses as an entity are always in the plural, and after a taste the response is always resounding "Them are GOOD!" The message on the label is not just marketing, but a marked clarification of the purity of the product and the process by which it's made.
If you're ever lucky enough to come by some sorghum syrup, rest assured you really can and should eat it on everything. When you tire of molasses in your breakfast oatmeal, on your supper sweet potatoes, and all the peanut butter-and-sorghum sandwiches you can stomach, be bold and bake a loaf of gingerbread-inspired cake (measurements approximated by kerosene lamp-light in a cabin):<!--more-->
(adapted from Mountain Makin's in the Smokies and Mrs. Roy Pilkington, courtesy of Sweet Sorghum Syrup (Southern "Molasses"): What It Is and What To Do With It by Melinda Young Stuart.)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (homemade, it's fall!)
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 super ripe banana
1 tsp baking power
1.5 tsp. baking soda
1 cup of sorghum syrup (sweet molasses)
1 cup soymilk
1 tbsp whiskey
2 tsp. dried ginger
3 cups of flour
Measure out a cup of soy milk (or your preferred nondairy milk), add a shot of whiskey, and set aside. Beat the applesauce and oil with a fork until pureed, then mash in the banana until smooth. Add the baking powder and baking soda, then pour in the sorghum and beat until mixture is slightly foaming. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour and add the ginger, then alternate adding the fruit/syrup mush and the milk, mixing until batter is fluffy. Bake at 350 for about 35minutes.
Alternatively, make yourself some johnnycakes! Cornmeal is big in the South but I think the term "johnnycake" might actually be a New England thing [Actually a Rhode Island thing! -- Ed.]. Oh well. They became a cabin-kitchen obsession: cornmeal pancakes with enough crunch and gumption to be a worthy vehicle for molasses.
(adapted from Post Punk Kitchen and The Joy of Cooking)
1/2 cup freshly boiled water
1/2 cup milk (soy, almond, dairy...)
1.5 cups cornmeal (if you're in RI you really ought to use Kenyon Grist Mill's for authenticity)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sorghum syrup
2 tbsp canola oil (optional, depending on how rich you want your cakes)
Measure out the cornmeal and pour in the hot water and milk, mixing until moist. Set this aside for a few minutes (the hot water pre-cooks the cornmeal to soften it a bit). When you can't waitany longer, add the rest of the ingredients and a cup of fresh (or canned) corn kernels if you like, making a nice batter. Turn a burner on medium-high and heat up a cast iron fry pan with a bit of vegetable oil, then pour in some batter (I use a coffee mug as a ladle and fill it about a third or halfway) and let it spread into a good-sized johnnycake. Notice how the cake will change, first at the edges, from pale yellow to a brighter shade and the cornmeal will firm up–when the center has firmed up too, flip it and cook until both sides are nicely darkened. Don't wait, but eat them as they come out of the frying pan with plenty of molasses.
Jess Daniels B'12.5 are good.