Tennessee Mountain Stories

Molassy Bread

Christmas season is in full swing and with it all the sweet treats that we remember and crave.  I recently had friends over and needed to whip up a last minute dessert.  Having a fresh jar of mountain made sorghum molasses sitting on the shelf an old standard came to mind – Molassy Bread.

Now my Grandpa Livesay (who got us calling this soft gingerbread “molassy bread”) remembered this was about the only cake or dessert he had while growing up.  Accordingly he was pretty burned out on it and when Grandma would bake a pan of molassy bread he wasn’t nearly as excited as the rest of us. 

I find that there is something of an acquired taste for many of our mountain foods.  This is one that I assumed people might not enjoy on the first eating.  However, that’s not the response I got.  My friends loved it.  My children loved it.  That’s what made me think you might enjoy remembering this goody.

As I mentioned, Molassy Bread is a soft gingerbread cake sweetened wholly or in part by sorghum molasses.  Last week I talked about molasses because many people are unfamiliar with them – or at least with our version of molasses.  But this is the sweetener we can produce from start to finish right at home.  Therefore, farm families have enjoyed it for generations.  One comment from last week’s blog claimed molasses are magical – they can make a pan of hot biscuits disappear before your eyes!  If you’ve got the taste for their thick, twangy sweetness you’ll agree with that comment wholeheartedly.

Molassy bread is kind of the same way.  The molasses give the sugary taste we crave but the ginger, cinnamon and cloves add a spice that can either overwhelm your tastebuds or intrigue them enough to finish the whole pan.  Served warm and topped with applebutter, you can’t buy a better dessert.  In fact, you can’t really buy molasses bread – sure you may find Gingerbread on a bakery shelf or even in a mix, but something isn’t quite the same.  Maybe it’s the love ingredient that Mamas and Grandmas add. 

As I move through this beautiful season of the year I can’t help but reflect on Christmases spent by families like my Grandpa’s.  His mother is renowned in the family for her culinary abilities.   Yet, love was the only ingredient she ever had in abundance.  Like so many mountain families from the 1930’s and before, they eked out a living devoid of many luxuries we think we can’t live without now.  Grandpa said they’d plant half the mountaintop in corn only to raise enough nubbins to feed an old mule and a milk cow through the winter.  So the bags of white sugar we will pour out this month in fudge, iced cookies and even sweet tea was unheard of in their homes.  Yet they had this simple food, Molassy Bread.  So maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

Just out of curiosity, I did a little internet search for Molasses Bread and was surprised to get several hits.  However, the recipes didn’t resemble the gingerbread cake I am familiar with.  Several referred to New England origins of the bread and they are true bread recipes with very little sweetness, no spices and apparently a loaf-bread texture.  Isn’t that interesting how foods differ so much across our country?

Now it’s your turn… has your family enjoyed sorghum molasses through the years?  Did you ever have Molassy Bread?  What’s your favorite way to eat molasses?