The age of molasses
Molasses! What a topic! If that is what you are thinking, here is something to ponder. Those of you born after the golden age of Confederation may not realize molasses was the primary sweetener in this province until it was elbowed out by refined white sugar.
Growing up in Branch in the 1950s, one of the most popular desserts was called bread and molasses. My husband, who grew up in Placentia Bay, refers to this tasty treat as molasses bread, and other Newfoundlanders call it lassie bread. No matter the name, there is one thing of which I am certain. Washed down with a cup of tea or cocoa or a glass of fresh milk, the taste was unrivaled.
Whenever I purchase some molasses at the supermarket, I find myself in a quandary trying to choose one. Should I buy my product in a plastic container or a cardboard one? Do I want dark or light? Cooking or fancy? In a large or small dispenser?
Well, in my childhood years we never had to mull over what kind of molasses to buy. I can still hear mommy saying, “Take the molasses jar and go down to the shop for a gallon of molasses.” Good grief ! That much molasses would last me forever now. Unlike my mother who made a molasses pudding every Sunday, I might make one once a year, and maybe not at all. My baking prowess is limited to Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker.
When I attended St. Thomas Aquinas School on the Lower Road, my friend Hannah’s house was right across the road. Iw i l l a lways remember Hannah’s mother, Eleanor McGrath, for offering me the tastiest homemade bread covered with molasses . It never occurred to me that this lady had a crowd of children to feed. And if Hannah brought in five companions, we all got a slice of bread and molasses. The woman was an angel. She must have baked bread every day of her life and sometimes twice a day. To us, it was a welcome snack and we never left a crumb.
Going down to the shop for molasses was an experience in itself. It seemed to take forever for the molasses to run out of the puncheon when the owner, Neil Power, or one of his sons, was drawing it. And the smell that permeated the whole area was scrumptious. Try as I might, I can never recapture that same sweet rum- like odor now when I open my carton of Crosby’s Gold Star. The whole idea of molasses in a big wooden cask was enough to make one feel a tiny bit intoxicated.
When the huge tub was nearly depleted of its delicacy, the molasses in the bottom was thick and sweet and we called it sugar molasses. This bottom of the barrel stuff was a treat in itself because it sort of tasted like taffy. My sisters and I never got up the lane without unscrewing the cap and sticking our fingers in for a lick or two. Anyway, that’s how I remember molasses from a puncheon.
It’s funny how the mention of a simple food like molasses can stir up the nicest memories. In wintertime, after sliding, skating or throwing snowballs, we would devour our bread and molasses. In the summer and fall, we took it with us when we picked berries. Some of the best times of my life involved sharing bread and molasses with playmates or being offered some of theirs. Cheers to that good old commodity which holds a prominent place in the annals of my childhood.
Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She now lives in Placentia where she taught school for almost three decades.
She can be reached at email@example.com.