A shout-out to falls past

October 21, 2016

A dinner straight out of fall, 1960-75, Benton County, Tennessee

A dinner straight out of fall, 1960-75, Benton County, Tennessee

The weather widget on my phone says it’s 58 degrees.

I say it’s about damn time.

It is, in case you have not noticed, the 21st of October. Day before yesterday, it was 90 degrees. (But there’s no global warming, oh, no, of course there’s not…) That just Ain’t Right.

But yesterday, the rain came through, followed by a cold front that dropped our temps by 30 degrees or so, and chased me right into the kitchen, where, among other things, I put together a dinner redolent of early fall dinners of days past.

I scrambled eggs. I warmed up previously-cooked bacon. I made biscuits (!), a skill I though I had lost, but these were decent. And I had new sorghum molasses.

A word about sorghum molasses, which was, when I was growing up there, one of the major agricultural products of Benton County, Tennessee. Somewhere around mid-September, the cane sorghum got cut, the cane crushed in a sorghum mill, and the resultant juice cooked down into a thick syrup. The syrup was then decanted into quart and half-gallon cans that looked like paint cans, lids popped on, and they went out to stores around town.

Didn’t take long for the word to get around. “New sorghum’s in!” Neighbors would call neighbors, and sometimes the local radio station would even make mention of it. And Benton Countians flocked to the groceries and markets to get their “new sorghum.”

New sorghum; not Benton County, but the next county over.

New sorghum; not Benton County, but the next county over.

See, “new” sorghum, sorghum for the first few weeks after it’s cooked, has a more acidic taste, a brighter, almost a citrusy taste, that fades away as it ages and its acid level drops. The later taste is no better or worse, to my palate — it’s just different.

And at my house, whenever we got our “new sorghum,” there was a very specific dinner always served that night.

  • Scrambled eggs
  • Slab bacon
  • Cornbread made with pork cracklings
  • Canned tomatoes

I’m not sure whether the tomatoes were because Mama felt we had to have a vegetable, or whether it was to provide a tart counterpoint to the richness of the other items. We had them straight from the jar, ladled into a dessert bowl. Daddy would always crumble some cornbread in his.

Eating sorghum was a definite production. One cut a pat of cold butter, about two tablespoons’ worth, and placed it carefully on one’s empty plate. Then one poured sorghum, from the sorghum pitcher I still have, over it; then one used the flat of one’s knife blade to blend the two. That accomplished, one loaded one’s plate with the other goodies, and dug in, using one’s knife to convey sorghum/butter  blend to one’s cornbread, a bite at a time. I would alternate by dipping the end of my bacon slice in mine, too.

It’s the only meal I can remember Mama and Daddy drinking milk with.

Stopped by up home on a road trip last week, and while I was there, picked up some sorghum. When I got home, I knew I wanted to have bacon, eggs, and sorghum for dinner. So last night, I did.

I had no cracklings, so I made biscuits instead. The last few times I’ve made biscuits, the biscuit gods did not smile on me, but these biscuits were pretty decent. They’re simple — flour, baking powder, shortening, salt all blended, then moistened with milk to make a pretty wet, soft dough…kneaded only minimally, patted out, and cut into rounds, then baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Scrambled eggs were scrambled eggs, four of them fresh from the farm for Child A and me, except the bacon smell made her ill and Lucy got hers. Beaten with a shot of cream and scrambled in butter. You don’t mess with perfect.

Crackling cornbread would have been better, and if I can find pork cracklings anywhere, I’ll have that before fall’s out. For now, I’ve sated myself on perhaps as many as three biscuits with sorghum, and I’m contemplating gingerbread cookies.

If you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em can find me a bag of cracklings, I’ll make this for you. Promise.



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