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Molasses sweetens cakes, cookies

In Virginia during the early 1800s the height of a bride's wedding cake was often dependent upon her popularity. It was customary at Virginian weddings for the guests to arrive with thin layers of molasses cake. These stack cakes, as they were called, were pile one upon the other and quickly provided visual evidence of the number of friends a bride had. As this practice was embarrassing for a bride whose stack of molasses cakes did not fall in the "high rise" category, the custom of using a footed cake plate to furnish added height was adopted.

Molasses for stack cakes and numerous other culinary offerings has been an integral part of American cooking for centuries. During colonial days, John Adams called it "an essential ingredient in America independence" because the British Parliament in 1733 aroused the ire of American colonists by unfairly taxing molasses bought by Americans from any country other than England.

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And it is interesting to realize that in Newbury, VT., a minister once postponed the celebrating of Thanksgiving Day because there was no molasses in town to sweeten pumpkin pie.

The use of molasses to sweeten pumpkin pies is only one of the many innovative ways, however, in which Americans throughout the centuries have used this culinary favorite. New Englanders used it to add a different fla vor to everything from baked beans to pudding; and Southern ladies property served their guests crisp cookies and golden gingerbread flavored with molasses.

Many handed-down recipes that include molasses lend themselves appetizingly and conveniently to modern interpretation or to shortcuts for busy cooks. Here are two recipes for molasses-flavored treats to be enjoyed on a cold lay day with a mug of hot spiced cider. Miniature Molasses Cakes 2 cups sifted cake flour 3 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup shortening 2 eggs, well beaten 2/3 cup milk 1/2 teaspoon cloves 1 Teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 2 tablespoons molasses

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream sugar and shortening together; add eggs; beat well. Alternately add in small amounts sifted dry ingredients and milk. Beat as each ingredient is added.

Place half of batter in separate bowl and add molasses, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Put alternate layers of spiced batter and unspiced batter in buttered and lightly floured small cupcake tins. Bake at 350 degrees F. about 25 minutes.

Make favorite butter frosting. Divide frosting into three portions. Flavor one portion with cocoa, another with vanilla, and one with lemon. Frost cakes. Glorified Gingerbread 1 package gingerbread mix 3/4 cup orange juice 2 teaspoons grated orange rind 1 teaspoon instant decaffeinated coffee 1 teaspoon mace Whipped cream Mandarin oranges

Prepare gingerbread according to instructions on package, adding egg and water, but substituting 3/4 cup of orange juice for same quantity of water. And orange rind, coffee, and mace. Bake as instructed on package. Serve with dollop of whipped cream topped with Mandarin orange sections.

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The following modern concoction with the nostalgic sweetness of molasses is a satisfying ending to a pleasant autumn or winter meal: Creole Pears 4 pears 1 cup water 1/4 cup brown sugar

Slice bottoms from pears so they stand upright in baking dish with water and brown sugar. Bake in moderate oven until soft, basting occasionally. Sauce 1 6-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed but not diluted 1/4 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup molasses 1/4 cup butter

Combine orange juice, sugar, molasses, and butter. Heat in double boiler, stirring from time to time until sauce is hot. Serve hot in a small pitcher of jug and let guests pour on pears.

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