When I was a child we waited in anticipation every fall for sorghum molasses to come on the market. Mother and Daddy were convinced the only appropriate sorghum molasses came from Benton County, Tennessee. Even then, one had to read the label closely to make sure corn syrup had not been added.
Sorghum is a grain. To make molasses, the canes are ground in a mill and the juice runs out. In the old days, a mule walked around and around in a circle to make the mill turn. The juice is cooked, not unlike maple syrup, and the byproducts skimmed off the top. Sorghum-making is a skilled craft. The byproducts used to be put in cattle feed.
But we wanted sorghum for two purposes: Daddy ate it with hot biscuits and butter, and I made gingerbread. How to explain how sorghum tastes? It’s lighter and wilder than the only acceptable substitute, Brer Rabbit Molasses. Dark Karo syrup is your syrup of last resort, too sweet, and it doesn’t have that wildflower/grain taste that sorghum does. But these are dark times we’re living in, so we do the best we can.
Here is Mother’s gingerbread recipe with sorghum molasses. Substitute as you must….
1 cup sorghum molasses
4 tablespoons shortening (butter or Crisco)
1 cup buttermilk
Mix together the above.
Sift together dry ingredients:
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ginger (the dry powder, for you foodies who peel the root)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
Mix dry and wet ingredients together. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Ford Tractor, Like Daddy’s
My daddy was a man who considered there was a right way to do anything, whether it was repairing a car engine or eating cornflakes. He was not dictatorial or oppressive in any way. Daddy just knew what he considered right, and he demonstrated how to do things, expecting you to follow his example.
When my nephew Jarrett was quite small, my sister Juanita and her family stayed on the farm with my parents for several weeks while they were in the process of moving to Kentucky. Jarrett and his brother Mason followed Daddy around and absorbed his every utterance, but Jarrett was particularly impressionable.
Years later I met him and his fiancee for lunch in Manhattan and listened to Jarrett explain to her the proper way to eat cornflakes. “Granddaddy showed me, ” he said. “You pour the flakes in a bowl, then you crush them with your hands, like this”–he demonstrated. ‘Then you put sugar on top, and finally you pour the milk on.” He then moved on to the proper methodology for having molasses and biscuits. “You have to put the butter on the plate, then pour the sorghum molasses on it. You whip it up with your knife. Then you split your biscuit, and spread it on the biscuit.”
Daddy’s lessons weren’t always absorbed. He tried to teach my brother to work on a car engine, but Gil preferred to bounce a tennis ball off the side of the house. He never managed to teach Mother to drive, because she would get nervous, he would get gruff, she would dissolve in tears, and the lesson ended. Consequently she was dependent on other people for transportation her entire life.
But some of the lessons did sink in. He taught me to change a tire after I had two flats in one week. I had to jump on the crowbar to loosen the lug nuts, but I could do it. It stood me in good stead for many years.
Daddy died of a heart attack when I was 22 years old. I miss him to this day. Happy Father’s Day to dads everywhere. Your daughters love you.