Humble folk: Humble food. Part 2

By David Wantz, University of Indianapolis

If you’re eating beaten biscuits for breakfast, then you probably need to have something a bit more flavorful to go with them. At my mother’s table, you would be served sharp cheese and molasses. Don’ t ask me why. If I knew that, I’d know why we ate beaten biscuits. It’s just the way the world turns on the Delmarva Peninsula.

If you can still find Po-T-Rik Molasses, that is the best. It’s made by the folks who make King Syrup; Maryland’s answer to Karo. I doubt the molasses comes from Puerto Rico. Nor do the Marylanders I know recognize the name Po-T-Rik as a phonetic spelling because they all call it Potterick.

Find the sharpest cheddar you can. Kraft is good, but the Black Diamond is winning converts. Slice a hunk and put it on your plate, where you then must dice it to pieces the size of a three-year-old’s thumbnail.

Then pour some molasses on the cheese. That’s it. That is the meal.

I can say that we were never so poor that we had only sharp cheese and molasses as a meal. I suspect my mother’s family was that poor, or her mother’s family. That is the way food works in a family. What we eat to keep body and soul together, we teach to our children so they may keep their bodies and souls together.

Knowing that part of my family has been in Maryland since around the time of its founding, makes me wonder if the use of molasses as a sweetener is tied to the dreadful mercantile system also in place at the time. Molasses, and slaves, and rum.

I can’t imagine another reason that molasses, and especially that molasses named for Puerto Rico, would be the sweetener of choice.

If I am enacting family history when I eat sharp cheese and molasses, am I also enacting American history when I do?

Maybe you have some thoughts about food as well. Let me invite you to share them during the 15th annual Spirit and Place Civic Festival this year. The theme is Food for Thought and will run from November 5 through 14. I am David Wantz and I am a member of the S&P board. I hope you will join us.


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