Wednesday Oct 13th Baked this morning in the brick oven
Went with Mother & Lavinia over to Edwins
to get her receipt for making molasses ginger
snaps left them to see over the house and came
home to have Susan ready to take her third
music lesson Miss Alger came about nine.
Mother & Lavinia & self rode over to call on Mrs
E Keith. Augustus & wife Mr Torrey & Abby spent the
evening Malvina spent the night with Susan
Ginger snaps came out of the old brick oven this morning and, although Evelina had baked them countless times before, she was trying out a new recipe borrowed from Augusta Pool Gilmore. No doubt the lovely fragrance of baking wafted into the parlor where Susan was taking her piano lesson from Miss Alger.
Although the recipe was different, the use of molasses was not. Molasses was a staple in most American kitchens and had been from colonial days onward. Molasses is the residue from the evaporated sap of sugar cane, available in varying degrees of sweetness and hue. In the days before refined sugar granules gained preference, molasses was the definitive sweetener in most homes.
Molasses was also the substance from which rum was made and, as such, was a primary factor in the historic “Triangular Trade” that went on in England, Africa, and the West Indies. It involved slavery. England sold rum in Africa in return for slaves, whom they took to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations to produce molasses and unrefined sugar. The sugar stuffs then came to America so the colonies could make rum. On top of that, England established a tax on the colonies for the imported sugar which was one of the many grievances that led to the American Revolution.
Botanic historian Judith Sumner writes:
[T]he early American economy was deeply tied to sugar production; in eighteenth and early nineteenth century New England, the sugar trade promoted shipbuilding and spawned a rum industry with serious social ramifications. Colonies also traded lumber, grains, meat, livestock and horses to supply the sugar plantations in the West Indies, where the owners concentrated exclusively on sugar production.”*
The connection of sugar cane to slavery did not go unnoticed. By the nineteenth century, “sugar was avoided by those who abhorred slavery because of the complex trading triangle that revolved around slaves, molasses, and rum […] Antislavery pamphlets illustrated cruel sugar plantation practices, where slaves were tethered to weights to prevent their escape and prevented from eating sugar cane by wearing heavy head frames.”* Some abolitionist households boycotted the use of sugar.
As we see, sugar processing and molasses production have an often unhappy history in the United States. And we haven’t even touched on Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919.
*Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, 2004, pp. 206-207
2 thoughts on “October 13, 1852”
The Thoreau household in Concord, his mother’s boardinghouse to which he returned and lived in a garret room, was a sugar-free household because of the slave trade. Henry spent some time trying the sweetness found in the sap of various maples and birches, but never produced anything in sufficient bulk. He certainly appreciated sweetness when he found it in wild apples, strawberries etc.
Thank you, Dwight. Imagine how hard it would be today for an American household to go sugar-free.