Pantry Raid X: Dark Side of the Cane Transcript

The Kitchen

    Over the years, we have dedicated quite a few shows to popular pantry staples. You know, dried pasta, beans, tomato sauce, lentils, vinegar, honey, and the like. But perhaps it's time we dug a little deeper. Ah, you know, venturing back into the dark recesses of your pantry is kind of like becoming an archaeologist of your own cooking. [AB pulls out completely this pull-out pantry and walks into the back of it] You see things that you bought one time for one dish, and then you just shoved it all further and further back. You know, like matzo meal, maraschino cherry vinegar, meat extract, and, ooh, I bet most of us have a jar just like this sitting in the dusty shadows, molasses. I probably bought it, you know, ten years ago for spice cookies.
    But you know, once upon a time, this was the sweetener of choice for most Americans who couldn't afford the high prices of refined sugar. But historical precedent not withstanding, molasses is far more vital stuff than you might think. It can do real miracles with flavor and texture, things that sugar could only dream about. Yeah, it may be a little slow on the pour, and I don't know, opinionated on the palate, a little old-fashioned. But believe me, molasses is deep, dark, and daring ...

[Good Eats Theme]

Florida Crystals Corp
Okeelanta Plant
South Bay, FL

GUEST: Helicopter Pilot

    Molasses is a by-product of sugar making. And most American sugar is born in the rich muck of southern Florida, where sugarcane stretches as far as the eye can see. The helicopter is the preferred method of travel.
    Now when the tropical grass matures in winter, the green leaves are burned away so that the harvesters can reap the sugar-bearing stalks. This is a process, by the way, that just a generation ago was accomplished exclusively by hand, if you can imagine.
    The chopped cane is loaded into trailers, and then trucked to a mill, and dumped onto conveyors which feed the tandems: massive engines of destruction, which repeatedly chop, grind, mangle, squeeze, wash, and then squeeze the plant fibers until they surrender every possible molecule of sucrose. And just so that nothing goes to waste, most mills take the spent cane, or bagasse, and burn it, in order to generate the electricity required by the process.
    Now the resulting cane juice, or mother liquor as it's called, must be clarified to remove impurities like dirt and bug parts before it can continue the refining process. The squeaky clean cane syrup is then boiled in machines called vacuum pans to initiate the formation of sugar crystals. The mixture that comes out of these machines is then spun in a centrifuge, which works like the spin cycle of a home washing machine to separate those raw sugar crystals from the first strike, or what's called "fancy" molasses.
    Now some of this is shipped to a grateful world. The rest is boiled and spun several more times, until finally every scrap of crystal worthy sucrose has been gleaned. And all that's left is the harsh, smoky, edgy molasses known as "blackstrap". A product good for feeding the cows and, once upon a time, distilling into rum.

18th Century New England Tavern

GUESTS: Tavern Patrons
              Thomas Jefferson
              Tavern Maiden
              Benjamin Franklin
              John Adams

    Although we usually think of molasses as an ingredient in cooking, its primary use in colonial America was distilling. You see, long before there was a sugar industry in Florida, there were massive cane plantations in the Caribbean, where African slaves toiled under the whips of greedy colonials. Who, like modern day drug lords, grew fat selling Europe its fix of the white powder, sugar.
    Now there was no Old World market for the leftover molasses, right? So it was hauled up to New England where it became killdevil, rumbullion, rum, which Americans consumed at a per capita rate of three gallons a year. The little kiddies too.
    Now rum was so cheap, that even the budget-strangled Continental Congress quaffed a steady river of the stuff while debating Richard Henry Lee's resolution for independency.

THOMAS JEFFERSON: [incessently plays the violin near AB]
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: [has the Tavern Maiden sitting near him]
TAVERN MAIDEN: [stands up and slaps BF]
AB: Hey, Franklin, why don't you get your mitts off of the help and go fly a kite or something, all right? Take Jefferson with you, this fiddle scratching is giving me a migraine!

    Sorry. Ironically, molasses use also led to freedoms. British tariffs concerning sugar and molasses fired up colonists far more than anything dealing with tea. Even John Adams himself was later quoted as saying ...

JOHN ADAMS: [raises head off table, apparently drunk] I know not why we should blush to confess that molasses was such an essential ingredient in American independence. Many great events were [sic, have] preceded by [sic, from much] small [sic, smaller] causes. Hey, Franklin, wait up!
AB: Very eloquent, very nice, thank you, very much.

    Now you have to realize that not all of the molasses that say, came into the docks of New England ended up as rum. I mean, take Boston for instance.

TM: [sits down at the table next to AB]

[AB is distracted by TM's waving] Two classic ... um ... dishes from there depend on molasses and its, its ... spicy goodness. Consider for instance, Boston baked beans, and of course, Boston brown bread.

The Kitchen

    [AB is at the fireplace] Originally, Boston brown bread was cooked on the hearth or even over a campfire by steaming it in a cylindrical mold, more or less conforming to the tradition of an English pudding. Now these molds are pretty tough to find these days. But an empty coffee can will do just fine. Just remember this is not a no-stick surface, so lube liberally with spray or shortening.

    [now at the kitchen counter] Besides the molasses, Boston brown bread is defined by a trio of grains, wheat, rye, and corn. Now this arrangement probably resulted from the fact that ever-thrifty New Englanders needed a bread that worked with their limited and ever-shifting resources. Of course, each is used in the manufacturing of spirits, so maybe this bread really was born exclusively of the hooch industry.


    [at the oven] Alright, oven prep, we're going to set for 325 degrees and put a three-quart oven-approved pan or pot right smack dab in the middle. I'll explain later.

325 Degrees

The Molasses Act of 1733 placed such high taxes on
molasses that maple syrup became the sweetener of choice.

The Kitchen

    Alright, time to introduce the Boston brown bread batter teams. We begin with the dry team: two and a half ounces by weight of cornmeal, and the same amount of rye flour, and the very same amount of wheat flour. That's easy to remember. Now the leavening: half a teaspoon each of baking soda and baking powder. While we're at it, half a teaspoon of kosher salt and of allspice. Fresh ground would be best. Grab yourself a whisk and bring that together. 2 Ounces Cornmeal
2 Ounces Rye Flour
2 Ounces Whole Wheat
tsp. Baking Soda
tsp. Baking Powder
tsp. Kosher Salt
tsp. Freshly Grated
    Then the wet team. [ed. which he adds right on top of the dry team] Eight and a half ounces of buttermilk, one teaspoon of vanilla extract. There we go. And one half teaspoon of fresh orange zest. And yes, we do usually consider that to be a wet ingredient. And I'm not measuring. That looks like enough. Last but not least, six ounces by weight of molasses. And by the way, a plunger cup is a much easier distribution device. There we go. Now whisk to combine. 8 Ounces Buttermilk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
tsp. Orange Zest
6 Ounces Molasses

    Now when it looks really disgusting, you are ready to double check the weight. Now this is just for distribution purposes. We've got one [pound], nine and three quarters [ounces]. I'm going to call that 26 ounces. Which we will distribute into two small cans, which we discussed before. And I'm going to use a canning funnel to try to get as close to 13 ounces into each one. We're definitely going to lose some in the bowl, so we'll probably end up with about 12-.
    [at the oven] Now if a dense, moist, cake-like bread is desired, and it is, we've got to do two things, okay. We have to slow the absorption of heat into the batter, and we also need to limit the batter's expansion, what's called "oven spring." So the cans will be topped with double layers of foil tied in place with string, okay? Those go into the middle of the pot. And we're going to add enough boiling water to come about halfway up the side of the pan. There. Now we're going to set the timer for one hour and 15 minutes.

Animation of Old Boston, 1919

    Now I know, it looked like there was plenty of room in those cans, but believe me, if I had packed all of that batter into one, we would be facing a massive molasses explosion in that oven. And there is a precedent for that kind of thing, okay?

    January 15th, 1919, Boston, Massachusetts. Carbon dioxide built up in a giant steel tank filled with 12,000 tons of molasses. The tank exploded, releasing a 15-foot-tall tidal wave of sticky goo, which raced across the north end of the city at about 35 miles per hour, okay? Now 21 people died and another 100 were hurt. Buildings were destroyed, and trains actually lifted right off of the tracks. Now people who inhabit the area today say that you can still smell molasses on hot days. We're not going to let this happen to us.

January 15, 1919
Boston, Mass.


Speed Limit 35

The Kitchen

    [at the oven] Okay, time is up and we will take a look. So just snip the string off of one can. Don't worry if it falls into the water. And kind of work the foil off. Now if you see that the bread has actually pulled away from the side of the can, then we are good to go. But let these rest out on a rack for one hour before de-canning.
    [at the table de-canning one of the breads] Ah, there you go. Wow, um, it may not be pretty, but the fragrance is heady, isn't it? [smells] Oh, how would you know? I'm sorry. Now as you can see, it's dense, it's moist, it's dark, and trust me, it's [takes a bite], it's chewy. A fabulous holiday loaf. Also appropriate with Boston baked beans.
    Now I realize, of course, that the true molasses heads among you are holding out for dessert. Fine, let's take a little drive.

Pennsylvania Dutch Country

    [AB drives a rural road, stops, and gets out of his car wearing traditional Pennsylvania Dutch clothing] "I break for shoofly pie" is the official state bumper sticker of Pennsylvania. And we've got the Pennsylvania Dutch to thank. Actually we have the Pennsylvania Dutch to thank for a lot of things. But especially this gooey, or wet-bottom pie, which is said to be so sweet and delicious that you just can't keep the flies off of it. It is especially alluring to me because, unlike most modern American desserts, which are sweet, but little else, shoofly has character, depth, molasses. [opens a small case, to reveal a fake beard, which he puts on] What do you think? Plain enough? Okay, let's do it.

Pennsylvania Dutch Country Diner

GUESTS: Dutch Diner Patrons

    By the way the Dutch, of Pennsylvania Dutch, does not refer to Holland but to Deutschland. You see, most of the settlers in this region were Germans and Swiss who came here in the 17th century to escape religious persecution back in the homeland.
    Now the Pennsylvania Dutch became America's preeminent dessert designers. And pie, which they consider appropriate at any time of day, even breakfast, is at the top of their totem. Now behold, the shoofly pie, which almost looks like someone spilled molasses in a coffee cake batter and then tried to hide the gaff by baking it into a pie shell. Historians suspect that this odd hybrid evolved as a way to utilize residual heat left over in an oven after bread baking. Very thrifty.
    [AB tries to eat a bite of the pie but is bothered by the fake beard which he takes off] Ah, whew, that's better.

DUTCH DINER PATRONS: [turn and look at him suspiciously]
AB: I'll just eat this in the buggy.

The Kitchen

    Baking shoofly pie is, well, ridiculously easy. Just obtain a nine-inch pie crust, by using either the basic version that we put together in our award-winning episode "I Pie," or you could buy one at the grocery store, we won't tell. Just make sure it's thawed before you dock it, that is, poke it full of holes with a fork to let steam out. Then line this with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, or beans, which are cheaper.

Go to four "Pie Crust" recipe

    Alright, slide this into the middle of a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes.

425 Degrees

Lancaster, Pennsylvania is home to the
"World's Greatest Shoofly Pie Bake-Off".

The Kitchen

GUEST: Giant Fly Man

    Okay, time for the weights to go. Now I always bring a receptacle to catch these in, because they're going to be hot. And try to work quickly and pull straight up [on the parchment paper] because the dough is still fragile. There, now we'll bake for another seven minutes.
    One of the key ingredients in shoofly pie is brown sugar. Oh, nuts, it's empty! Are we doomed? Not as long as we have regular sugar and molasses on hand we're not!

    Once upon a time, brown sugar was simply unrefined sugar. But today it's lily-white table sucrose with molasses added. And we can do that ourselves, right? So one pound of plain old sugar goes into the food processor, along with three ounces by weight of molasses. We'll just take this for a spin, scraping down the bowl every now and then until the molasses is completely incorporated. It'll take about a minute. Stored in an airtight container, this mixture should remain viable for up to a month, after that it'll get a little crusty. You seem surprised. I mean, what did you think brown sugar was? Sucrose with a tan? Hah hah! Let's make pie. 1 Pound Sugar
3 Ounces Molasses
    First, we're going to assemble our crumb mixture. This is five and a half ounces by weight of all-purpose flour. We've got two tablespoons of cold unsalted butter, four ounces of dark brown sugaryes, homemadeand a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt. Now just lid up and buzz that to combine. There. Now we're going to save just a quarter cup of this for a later purpose. 5 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter, Cold
4 Ounces Dark Brown Sugar
tsp. Kosher Salt

    To make our filling we'll need a big mixing bowl, metal or glass will do. Place into the bottom three quarters of a teaspoon of baking soda, and top that with three quarters of a cup of boiling water.

tsp. Baking Soda
Cup Boiling Water

    Now in all the baking that we have done on this show, we have never attempted this maneuver. Why bother? Well, molasses is acidic; soda is alkaline. By bringing them together, we create a slightly alkaline batter, and alkaline batters tend to bake up dark, rich, and moist. So, why not just dump the powder into the batter the way we've done before? Well, because when baking soda and acids come together, carbon dioxide is released. Now this action provides leavening to many baked goods. But here's the thing: in this case, we don't want any leavening, okay? So, by dissolving the soda, we thus create an alkaline aqueous solution as witnessed by this litmus paper. Now, when mixed into the batter, the CO2 will quickly be released, leaving us with a higher pH, but zero lift. I told you those Pennsylvania Dutch are crafty.

    Alright, we continue. Next in, eight ounces by weight of molasses, one whole beaten egg, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Whisk that together, and then introduce the larger amount of the crumb mixture to the party. Whisk to combine. 8 Ounces Molasses
1 Whole Egg
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

    Alright, let us move to the crust. Pour that in. And then we top with the reserved bit of the crumb mixture.

    Alright, pie goes into the 350-degree oven. And set your timer for, let's say, 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pie puffs slightly and starts to kind of dry and crack on top, okay? Good.

350 Degrees

    [after 40 to 45 minutes] There we go, looks perfect. Now get this out onto a rack and let it cool one and a half to two hours before cutting.
    [at the table] Mmm, mmm, sweet, but not cloying. Complex without being bossy. And even after a long hiatus in the heat, it is lusciously moist. How is this possible? Well, let us remember, molasses is a by-product of sucrose refining, right? And it still contains a considerable number of those double sugar molecules. But most of them have been split into single sugars, i.e. glucose and fructose.

    Now fructose is special stuff because it is far, far more hygroscopic, or water-loving, than sucrose, which is why molasses baked goods tend to come out of the oven very moist. And since they can literally pull humidity out of the air, they remain moist. Now, as to whether or not flies actually like this kind of thing ...

GIANT FLY MAN: [appears outside the kitchen window making buzzing noises]

    Help me!

By the way, one cup of molasses weighs about twelve ounces, heavy stuff!

The Kitchen

    Now the very attributes that enable molasses to hold onto moisture in baked goods can be employed in marinades for meat. Now not only would a soak in a molasses-ade, so to speak, help with moisture retention and up the flavor quotient, the liquid can be boiled down into a sauce as the meat cooks.

    Now speaking of meat, I can think of no better molasses mate than pork chops. And I seem to be in possession here of four of them, in the six to eight ounce range. And look! They're already conveniently convalescing in a one-gallon sized zip top bag. 4 6-8 Ounce Pork Chops
    So to this we will add six ounces of the molasses of your choice, even blackstrap would be fine. And for a little more liquid, I'm going to add one cup of strong, cold coffee. And yes, I save my leftover coffee because I like icing it later. Now I never marinate without an added acid or two. So in this case we'll go with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and one tablespoon, about, of Dijon mustard. Next, two cloves of garlic, minced. We'll say one teaspoon of kosher salt. Half a teaspoon of ground ginger. There, very nice. Six to eight sprigs of fresh thyme. And one half teaspoon of black pepper. There, now seal the bag, removing as much of the air as possible. Then gently massage to combine. When everything looks nice and stirred together, we will return this to its appointed containment, and into the chill chest for a minimum of two hours. But I have to tell you, overnight would be a whole lot better. 6 Ounces Molasses
1 Cup Strong Coffee, Cooled
2 Tbs. Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tbs. Dijon Mustard
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
tsp. Ground Ginger
6-8 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
tsp. Freshly Ground Black

    [at the patio grill] When the time comes for your chops to face the fire, in our case it will be fire, drain the marinade into a small sauce pan, and get that over high heat. Now we're going to reduce that down until it's about half to three quarters of a cup of liquid. That'll be just enough time to grill your chops over medium-high heat. I'm going to call that 400 to 425. Flip once or twice, and make sure you hit 145 degrees of internal temperature before extraction. Oh, and don't forget the sauce. Ahh, that's nice.
    [at the table] Let your chops rest for five minutes and then top with the reduced marinade. It's kind of like having your own free molasses barbecue sauce.

GFM: [reappears outside the window making buzzing sound]

    Almost as good as shoofly pie. [notices the fly, and swings at it with a fly swatter]

GFM: [gestures and then leaves]

    [at the pantry] Well, I hope that we've convinced you to move molasses out of the pantry shadows and into the light. Maybe not right up front, but at least the second row. Now as for the rest of the pantry, well, give us a little bit of time and maybe we'll even find a use for that matzo meal and maraschino cherry vinegar. Maybe.


    Gosh, looks like this thing keeps going. Now you're going to have to excuse me, I think I'm going to go spelunking for something really ancient, maybe some quinoa or horehound, or, ooh, Grandma Brown's pickled prunes. See you next time on Good Eats.

John Adams, in a 1818 letter to William Tudor

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010