Molasses – a connection with my past (and a bone of contention in my present)

There are very few things that Dana and I argue about.  Don’t read that as saying we agree on everything – there are lots of things we debate with passion and usually are discussing the same (or similar) thing from a different angle.  We often compliment each others views rather than clone each other.

“Often” and “usually” are words which do not apply when the discussion turns to the relative merits of Marmite (which I’ll leave for her to post about!) and Molasses.  There’s just no room in the middle to meet on this one.  I admire Marmite as a discard from the beer making process and Dana likes molasses in baking.  However there’s no mixing plates when they consist of warm toast covered in thick, dark, gooey syrup.

My Pepe was many things.  He was Acadian, an entrepreneur (owned a gas station and a local games room with the town’s first television), athlete, handyman, carpenter and many other things.  I choose to remember him in his yellow overalls piloting a small boat off the coast of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

He would wake me and a few lucky cousins up early in the morning and we would head out to sea to jig for mackerel (there will be more about this later – however it can be the most exciting fishing in the world as the fish feed in a frenzy and it is not uncommon to fish with 2-4 lines with several hooks on each, all without a rod).  I’ve never been a fantastic morning person and I remember shivering in the morning cold as my Meme would prepare breakfast for us – I would often carry the small cooler to the waiting boat as we headed out in the early morning twilight.

Breakfast was generally two molasses sandwiches.  They were made with care and patience.  My Grandfather insisted that there was a “right” way to apply butter and molasses to bread and it has never failed me.  A healthy dollop of molasses must be applied and spread across fresh bread (or toast) before adding a layer of butter.  Adding butter first destroys the whole deal – the butter protects the airy pockets of the bread and the sugarcane juice never has a chance to penetrate the loafy goodness.

Molasses   a connection with my past (and a bone of contention in my present)

Molasses on bread is also a fantastic indulgence with stew, soup and other things one would dip bread into (yes, chili can count!).  The thicker the liquid, the better – water-like soups are rarely a suitable companion.  The sweet/ burnt flavor profile pulls further flavor from any broth and serves to slightly sweeten the rest of your meal.  I eat all of my dipping bread – often 4 pieces – before lifting my spoon.  It’s a very rare treat, but one I treasure.

The sweetest bit of this snack, for me, is the feeling that I have stepped into a time machine and travelled back 30 years.  I remember the yellow light of the kitchen, the tender care of my Grandmother and apparent endless knowledge of my Grandfather who appeared to be greatest fisherman in the world.  There were many cold mornings when we came home with nothing but these were offset by a fresh fish breakfast from the catch of the day.  There was one exceptional day where my cousin David, Pepe, my Father and myself (I believe that was all) pulled 400-500 pounds of mackerel (they are between .75-1.5 pounds each) from the sea.  What we couldn’t eat became bate for the local fishery in a far simpler time when the seas seemed endless.

In the end, molasses is as much about my childhood and connection to my Grandparents and roots as much as anything else.  I think, with time, we’ll find that Dana and I are closer in opinion on this “disagreement” than not – her connection to Marmite is different, yet similar.

Cast your vote here!

What are the foods that bring your generational memory screaming forward?


  1. Joel – this is a fabulous post… and that is exactly how to make a molasses sandwich!!

  2. this is the one that brings me back to my childhood: fresh, thick cream (yup.. straight from the farm, right out of a mason jar) spread on a thick slice of homemade white bread and sprinkled with brown sugar. simply devine. the jar would not last more than a day in the fridge. what a treat.

  3. Rosemarie McGuire says:

    Often my nose transports me back in time. Today your words sent me on my journey back to Glasgow and Granny!

  4. Ms. Shorty says:

    Walking into the Jewish bakery on Baldvin (yes I know it is Baldwin Street to the rest of you) with the wonderful smells of fresh baked breads and the sound and feel of the sawdust under my feet brings back memories that almost brings me to tears.

    My mother and I would rip off pieces of warm dark rye bread and use the bread to scoop out sour cream. My father would just shake his head at us and laugh, as his two favourite girls would close their eyes and worship each piece that we ate with gusto.

    You can’t find anyplace that makes that dark rye properly now. It is like my parents…..just a wonderful memory that I cherish.

  5. My Oma would make me sugar bread bread with chocolate when I was being grumpy and didn’t want to eat anything :)

    Bread with butter and sugar, toasted in the toaster oven.


    Bread with butter and chocolate sprinkles.

    Mmmm so tasty.

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