Sticky, syrupy molasses sweetens a variety of dishes

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Dan Bolyard/courtesy photo Molasses gives baked beans their thick, rich character.

Molasses traces its American history back to 1493 when Columbus introduced it to the West Indies. It was the major sweetener used in America until after World War I because it was less expensive than sugar.

Baking was the most popular way to prepare food in the colonies, so molasses became associated with baked goods: donuts, mince pies, pumpkin pies, ginger bread, baked beans, corn bread, countless cookies, and cakes.

Molasses syrup is separated from sugar crystals by means of centrifuging. Molasses is separated from the sugar crystals repeatedly during the manufacturing process, resulting in several different grades of molasses; that obtained from the first extraction contains more sugar, tastes sweeter, and is lighter in color than molasses obtained at the second or third extractions. The third and final extraction yields blackstrap molasses, a heavy, viscous, dark-colored product that has had all the sugar removed from it that can be separated practically by ordinary crystallization.


BAKED BEANS

  • 1 (16-ounce) package beans (I happened to use pinto)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 pound bacon, diced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a large pot, soak navy or pea beans overnight in 6 cups water. Next day, drain beans and return to pot. Add another 6 cups water and baking soda. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain in a colander over a large bowl; reserve liquid. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large casserole dish, combine beans, bacon, and onion. Add molasses, salt, brown sugar, ground mustard powder, pepper, and a cup of reserved liquid; stir until well blended. Cover bean pot or casserole dish. Bake, covered, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Add remaining liquid and stir again. Bake another 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. Uncover last 30 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and serve.


APPLE CAKE

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 3 apples, cored, peeled and diced small
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 1 1/2 cups pastry flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 300. Line bottom of spring form with circle of wax paper. Butter paper and sides of pan.

Place all eggs in bowl. Add brown sugar and molasses. Beat well. Stir in apples and orange rind. Sift in flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and fold in with wooden spoon. Pour batter into spring form and cook 60-65 min or until cake is done. Cool in pan slightly before removing. Finish cooling on wire rack. Serve with whipped cream.


BRAN BREAD

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cup wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dissolve soda in molasses, add buttermilk and mix well. Mix in bran and raisins. Gradually fold in flour; turn into an 8x4x2 inch loaf pan greased or lined with wax paper, and spread evenly. Bake 45 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.


COOKIES

  • 5 1/2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg; set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar until smooth, then stir in the molasses. Add the sifted ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, mixing well after each addition. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness. If the dough is too soft, more flour can be added. Cut out cookies using cookie cutters and place them 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.


BARBECUE SAUCE

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 (5.5-ounce) can tomato juice
  • 2 tablespoon liquid smoke flavoring

In a blender or food processor, combine the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, brown sugar, onion, garlic powder, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, tomato juice and liquid smoke. Puree until smooth and transfer to a small saucepan. Place saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 1 hour, or to desired thickness. Use as you would any other barbecue sauce.

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