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Every Tuesday at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m., Tom Harte shares a few thoughts on food and shares recipes. A founder of “My Daddy’s Cheesecake,” a bakery/café in Cape Girardeau, a food columnist for The Southeast Missourian, and a cookbook author, he also blends his passion for food with his passion for classical music in his daily program, The Caffe Concerto.

A Harte Appetite: Molasses - A Sticky Situation

flickr user Boston Public Library (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)

Ever been in a sticky situation? We all have. But probably none as sticky as the Great Molasses Flood, sometimes called the Molasses Massacre, which hit Boston in 1919.

The tragedy occurred when over 2 million gallons of molasses stored in a 50-foot tall tank at the Purity Distilling Company burst forth, when the temperature rose from below zero one day to 40 degrees the next.

A wall of molasses estimated to be as high as 30 feet swept down Boston's Atlantic Avenue at the rate of 25-35 miles per hour, engulfing everything in its path.

It took six months to clean up the mess.

Worse yet, I calculate that as an aftermath of the tragedy 14 million batches of Boston baked beans, 11 million loaves of gingerbread, and over 600 million soft molasses cookies would never be made.

As this episode demonstrates, the history of molasses has not always been sweetness and light. The dark syrup also played a pivotal role in firmly establishing the slave trade in the New World.

The thick brown liquid was also instrumental in abetting the American Revolution. The enactment of the Molasses Act of 1733 was provocative enough that John Adams called molasses "an essential ingredient in American Independence."

But despite its sweet-sour past, molasses maintained its dominance as the major sweetener in America until after World War I.

These days molasses is used not as a general sweetener but only when it's unique taste is desired. But, then, that's reason enough to use it often.

If you've forgotten just how wonderful molasses is, give it a try...doing as the colonists did. Substitute molasses for sugar in your favorite recipes for baked goods. Not only does it impart flavor but it makes the finished product moister and helps it stay fresh longer.

The general rule of thumb is that for every cup of sugar you can substitute one cup of molasses as long as you reduce the rest of the liquid in the recipe -- not counting oil -- by 1/3 cup.

++++ The Ultimate Molasses Cookie ++++

This recipe, adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, updates the classic homey cookie with the addition of white chocolate and cashews.

2 sticks butter
1 c. sugar
¼ c. molasses
2 eggs
2 ½ c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 ½ c. salted cashew pieces
½ c. white chocolate chips

Cream butter, sugar and molasses until fluffy. Beat in eggs. Sift together flour, baking soda, and nutmeg, and add to butter mixture, combining well. Stir in cashews and chips. If dough is too soft, refrigerate until firm. Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until golden. Cool slightly before removing from sheets. Makes 4 dozen.

Tom Harte is a retired faculty member from Southeast Missouri State University where he was an award-winning teacher, a nationally recognized debate coach, and chair of the department of Speech Communication and Theatre.
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