Sunday, July 5, 2015

Molasses, Brigham Young’s Sweet Tooth, and Pioneers.

Since moving to San Juan County in 2009, one important lesson I have learned is, descendants of the pioneers are close knit, and close mouthed, especially when it comes to family secrets. I have, on occasion, put a call out for recipes dating back to the pioneers; the call seemed to only attract crickets. San Juan County descendants of the "Hole in the Rock" pioneers are quite different in attitude and manner than the rest of Utah descendants.  Oh, they remember where their families came from; just not from before 1880.  Not one to be deterred, online shopping offered to me exactly what I was craving for; recipes of the Utah Pioneers. Into my hands, thanks to the U.S. Postal Service, was delivered a first edition book, “The Mormon Pioneer Cookbook” by the “Daughters of Utah Pioneers”.

This lovely little gem gives the reader, not only recipes, but historical information and a bit of old time gossip. For instance, did you know that Brigham Young had a bit of a sweet tooth? It is no wonder really, considering he was born and raised in Vermont (an East coaster just like me!); he enjoyed molasses, maple syrup, honey, as well as cake and candy made with these sweeteners. (“Life Story of Brigham Young”, page 249 by Susa Young Gates, daughter)

Another tidbit is the origin of the Mormon Pioneer Woman, as quoted from the “Forward”; “She was German, Swedish, Finnish, English, Welsh, Scot, Irish, Dutch, French or Danish.” These women of diverse ethnic backgrounds traveled over rough, and dangerous, terrain to Utah; in other words, and dare I say it, they were “Outsiders”. (Outsider, just like me, except my ethnic background happens to be Croatian.)  That is one of the "attitudes" of the area locals; if you are not born and raised locally (only San Juan County); AND descended from the pioneers, then you're an "outsider".  No matter how long you live here, or what you say or do for the community; you'll never be truly accepted.  Like I said, they tend to forget their own ancestors were "outsiders".   Bubbles can be busted, just takes a bit longer in Southeastern Utah.

So why was molasses a common sweetener used by the pioneers? Sugar needed to be shipped in from the East coast, making it rare and very expensive. Cornstalks, sorghum (a type of sweet grass), fruits, sugar beets and other vegetables were used in the making of molasses. Not only was it used for baking and cooking, but as a common table sweetener. Another common item was the apple; seems they were abundant in the Utah valleys; applesauce was stocked in a good pioneer woman’s pantry.

Molasses plus applesauce and a cake recipe was born; supposedly one of Brigham Young’s favorites too. This cake is very moist, surprisingly not overly sweet, crystallized molasses gives a slight crunch around the edges and top; this is definitely a good snacking cake. Any picnic, get-together, or family meal would be an excellent time for Molasses Applesauce Cake. Want to be exalted as an excellent baker? Add a nice cream cheese frosting and watch the green eyed monster descend over the other bakers in your group. Don't take my word for it; I had nine people taste test this cake; and it was a joint consensus!

Now excuse me while I continue on reading about pioneer cooking; of course snacking on a bit of cake.

Molasses Applesauce Cake
(page 35, “The Mormon Pioneer Cookbook”)
½ cup shortening (I used Crisco)
½ cup sugar
2 eggs (I used large)
1 cup molasses
1 cup applesauce
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon (ground)
1 tsp. nutmeg (ground)
Cream together shortening and sugar until light and fluffy; blend in eggs. Add molasses and applesauce; mix well.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices; stir into molasses mixture.

Turn into a greased and floured 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Bake in a 350F oven 30 to 45 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool; cut into squares.
Yield: About 24 servings.
Notes: Definitely sift the flour well or you’ll get a lump here or there in the cake…I know.
Instead of “greasing and flouring” the baking dish; a baking spray, for example: Baker’s Joy, works just as well.
At 30 minutes, begin testing the cake by inserting a toothpick into the center and seeing if it comes out clean…my cake took only 30 minutes to bake fully.
Mary Cokenour