The age of mo­lasses

The Compass - - OPINION - MA­RINA GAM­BIN

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 mari­nagam­bin@per­sona.ca.

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