This article first appeared in the October, 2007 issue ofNougat Magazine.
A biological clock ticks in my head all year long. Since I was born in 1949, it's not THAT biological clock. This one is all about pleasure and sweetness. It is not about pleasure and sweetness plus dirty diapers, lost sleep, and worries over college tuition
Instead of 'tick-tock,' this clock says 'slurp-syrup,' louder and louder as fall approaches, until I yield to the Golden Imperative. After Labor Day, I have about a month to handle a sensitive, challenging job that will make a difference for the next 12 months. I have to find fresh sorghum. Or 'sorghum molasses.' Or just call it "molasses" (n. plural), ignoring the prim, slightly obnoxious experts on the web, who hold that 'molasses' can only refer to the dark, icky byproduct of sugar cane processing. These experts recommend we call our glistening amber treasure 'sweet sorghum' or 'sorghum syrup.'
I usually like to be helpful, but in this case I have a strong case of resistance to assumed authority. As a matter of fact, I have never heard a REAL Kentucky sorghum eater call this pure Kentucky product anything other than 'sorghum' or 'molasses.'
Since it is ours, like bluegrass and bourbon and country ham and blackberries are ours, I say we get to call it whatever we want. Listening to the experts on this is like having someone tell me I am not pronouncing my own name correctly.
I admit I used to worry about what to call my favorite sweet. I wanted to explain the lip-smacking goodness of Kentucky sorghum and its amazing health benefits (super source of anti-oxidants, potassium, and iron), to people born west of Missouri or north of Kentucky. After many tries, I quit.
If you grew up outside Sorghum Nation, my condolences. The most polite way I can put it is this: It seems you picked the wrong place to be born. What kind of parents would be so mean to their helpless little baby?
For reasons I cannot explain, it is somewhere between hard and impossible to acquire a taste for straight sorghum molasses -- the amber syrup slathered unalloyed over spoonbread or an apple pancake -- if you encounter them first after you learn to walk. (Remember, molasses are plural). The one hope for you may be Molasses Crinkles, a cookie that knows how to cross geographic as well as generational boundaries. Molasses Crinkles filled my parents' cookie jar for about 20 years as their next-door grandchildren grew up.
I admit ' I am ambivalent about making sorghum sound wonderful. Since the supply is scarce, it may not be wise to give away sorghum secrets. What if this is the year all the usual supplies run out? We are in a drought. Even though sorghum cane is drought-resistant, what if the one person who brings Oberholzer's Sorghum to the Lexington Farmers Market cannot get any this year? What if Critchfield's or Good Foods do not get their usual supply?
Those not from Sorghum Nation cannot know how painful it would be, living a whole year without our favorite flavor. For would-be immigrants to Sorghum Nation, one caution above all: Make sure you buy pure sorghum. Ask a native, or check the label. No corn syrup, no sugars, nothing except sorghum cane juice, boiled down to thick, amber perfection. Now go find that spoonbread recipe, and maybe we won't ask for your visa.