Notes from the lost days, Part 4

November 4, 2012

Blogger’s note: this is the last of the “lost days” posts. It dates from sometime in early October, after I had bought sorghum at the Farmers Market. Hopefully, camera, laptop and WordPress will all align and I can detail my upcoming visit to the Big Easy for some spectacular food.

There are these things that take you back to childhood.

I grew up in Benton County, Tennessee. Which is not close to much of nothing, but is mostly north of I-40 right before you cross the Tennessee River headed east. Which is to say it’s one of those undecided countines, torn betwixt the hills and the delta,, and not real sure what it wants to be when it grows up.

When I was a kid, it grew cotton. I used to get out of school every year in late September, early October for cotton-picking. And one year I actually picked cotton. Picked all day, bored to tears, fingers burning, picked 35 pounds, made $1.65, determined that manual labor was not my forte, and gave that stuff up. Determined right then I’d make my living with my brain, not my brawn.

I’m a long way from Benton County, Tennessee, these days. However, there’s a couple of things that stay with me. One of them is sorghum molasses.

At one time, when I was in high school and shortly out of high school, Benton County held, briefly, the honor of being the largest sorghum molasses producer in the nation. And that was nice, but what was even better was the day in early October or so that “new sorghum” came out.

Now, “new sorghum” was a very temporary sobriquet. The sorghum harvest happened. The sorghum heads got ground into sweet feed for livestock. The stalks got pressed, and the resulting juice boiled in big old stainless steel pots.

That juice got boiled over charcoal until some point that sorghum makers knew was right, and then the thick, fragrant syrup got pulled off into one-quart cans that  look like paint cans. And that was new sorghum, and that was something that changed the dinner plans in Benton County, or at least at my house.

As an aside, once you’d had new sorghum for a while, it didn’t taste new any more. It didn’t go bad or anything — it just matured, smoothed out, didn’t have that fragrant, almost citrusy, acidic bite the new sorghum had. It had a bigger, fuller, rounder taste. Think of the difference between beaujolais nouveau and an old vine zinfandel.

Anyway. When you got new sorghum, the dinner menu was very specific. There was country bacon. There was cracklin’ corn bread, which, for the unitiated, is corn bread with cracklins in it. Cracklins are the little tiny solid pieces that are left after lard is rendered.  They impart a delicious salty crunch to cornbread. Think bacon bits, but better. And there were — I guess in the interest of getting SOME kind of vegetable into the deal, canned tomatoes. Those would be home-canned tomatoes from the garden, mind you.

And there was a very specific method for enjoying this repast. One took a slab of cold butter — let’s say about two pats’ worth. One poured the thick, amber sorghum over it, to ratio of about 2 parts sorghum to one part butter. And then one took the blade of one’s table knife and commenced to roughly blend the butter into the sorghum, until it was a nice, even, honey-gold paste.

One could at that point smear dabs of sorghum/butter onto one’s cornbread, or dip into it with one’s bacon. Or both. With a bite of tomatoes every so often to cut through the richness and reset the taste buds. Cold milk was obligatory.

I still keep sorghum in the house — it’s critical for baked beans, and good in lots of other applications — and every once in a while I’ll make cornbread, or biscuits, and blend my butter and my sorghum, and for a few minutes, I’m back at my kitchen table in Benton County.

And then I come back to reality and I’m here in Arkansas. With the dawg and the kid and the grandkid, and computers that don’t work and photos that won’t load, etc. But it’s fun to visit for a minute or two.

You and y’mama ‘n ’em get you some sorghum molasses, when you get a chance. You can use it to make the best baked beans in town, to wit:

  • 2 cans Bush’s Best baked beans, drained.
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 2 tbsp mustard (plain yellow ballpark mustard is fine)
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp sorghum molasses
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • A healthy shake of garlic powder
  • 2 healthy shakes of onion powder
  • 4 strips of bacon (or a tablespoon of bacon grease)

Mix everything but the bacon together. Spread into 9 x 9 baking dish. Lay bacon on top. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes.


One Response to “Notes from the lost days, Part 4”

  1. […] recipes nor photos, since you’ve seen ‘em all before. For reference, here, here, here, and […]

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