At Christmastime, we love anything with the words old-fashioned attached to it.
A holiday ingredient that is truly from days gone by is sorghum, also called molasses, or sorghum molasses.
But just to be clear, sorghum is not molasses.
"Some people insist on calling sorghum molasses, and some even get hostile about it. But they are two different products," said Fred Sauceman, an associate professor of Appalachian studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.
"Molasses is a byproduct of the making of sugar, and sugar cane simply will not grow in our area. In fact, molasses can even be a blended product, containing as much as 20 percent Karo syrup. Sorghum comes from sorghum cane, which is a much hardier crop," Sauceman said.
"Sorghum was consumed here during colonial times, but as far as I know, sorghum cane wasn't grown in America until fairly late, in the 1850s," he said. "At times when sugar prices got too high, folks relied on sorghum as their primary sweetener."
Sorghum is an important Kentucky Proud commodity, and the state has several producers. According to the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association, membership in the organization has grown fivefold since 2001, from 110 to 550, in 41 states. Morris Bitzer, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky and the association's executive secretary, said new producers are being added every year.
Danny Townsend, owner of Townsend's Sorghum Mill, is the fifth generation to make sorghum on the family farm in Jeffersonville. Townsend took over the business in the mid-1980s, and Townsend's Pure Cane Sorghum has been voted national champion sweet sorghum twice.
Although it has been a dry year for crops, Townsend said he has had a good yield.
Sorghum is best served on hot biscuits, but it's "really good for baked beans," Townsend said. "You can can use it anywhere you use molasses or honey."
Sorghum is a primary ingredient in the dried-apple stack cakes that have been made for generations in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, Sauceman said. His wife, Jill, prepares dried-apple stack cake from a recipe that has been in her family for more than 100 years.
The most popular use for sorghum this time of year is for gingerbread people or ginger cookies. If you don't want to make cookies with the youngsters, try sorghum foam.
"Heat up some sorghum in a pan and sprinkle in some baking soda," Sauceman said. "The sorghum becomes much lighter in color and foamy. It's a good chemistry lesson for children."