Thursday, June 26, 2008

To Syrup with Love

When I was a kid, the big event on Saturday mornings was Dad mixing up Bisquick pancakes. I suspect that he enjoyed doing this because we had a blender built into the counter. It was 1960s high-tech, like our intercom system and central vacuum. If he had had to mix them up with a hand-held electric mixer, I don't think he would have done it. But the blender was cool, and my sisters and I appreciated the novelty of having Dad cooking on something other than the charcoal grill. He poured the batter out on the griddle that occupied the middle of Mama's big electric range. Perfectly browned and delivered to our plates, we poured on the Alaga cane syrup. It was strong, dark, and yummy, and I loved studying the label, which featured hands clasping in front of a sheaf of wheat. These hands represent the joining in marriage of the company founder, Louis Whitfield, with his true love, Willie Vandiver. He was a Georgia boy, and she was an Alabama gal. Miz Willie coined the company name and designed the label to reflect their personal story. If you think that sounds awfully sweet for a commercial label, read the story here. The company is still in business in its Montgomery, AL, birthplace.

When I went to visit Nanny and Papa, my maternal grandparents, Nanny would cook the best-ever French toast for breakfast. Before she started, though, she always made sure and told me what a "good bedfeller" I had been the night before. This was an essential step to the whole French toast experience. Nanny cooked the French toast on a square alumnium skillet and would serve it, steaming hot, on a pale yellow plate that had a picture of wheat in the center. The slices of toothsome perfection glowed golden on that yellow plate and shimmered under a thick coating of refrigerated light Karo syrup. The contrast of the hot French toast with the cold syrup charmed my tongue, closed my eyes, and demanded that I hold that bite and SAVOR the goodness. Estblished in 1902, Karo became famous in the 1930s when the wife of a Karo corporate sales executive created the recipe for pecan pie.

Now my Grandma Somerset, she didn't hold with any fancy stuff, but she knew tricks that made a little girl's heart glad. She would bake a batch of biscuits and say, "Let's have some "Pokey Hole" biscuits, and gleefully, I would jab an index finger into a hot biscuit and fill the resulting well with a liquid column of Yellow Label syrup. Grandma's was the only place I ever had Yellow Label. That made it extra special. My dad always told me that during the Depression they ate salt cod with syrup for breakfast. I bet the syrup was Yellow Label. As good as it was, I doubt it could make him look forward to the salt cod. Yellow Label is a honey-based syrup that was bought by the Alaga company in 1975.

Now I cook a lot of waffles, pancakes, and biscuits for my children, but Nathaniel and Emma only like mild-tasting syrups. Not me. I still get hungry for something that can make my tastebuds stand up and salute. You know that's cane syrup. Luckily, during the many years that we lived in Louisiana, I discovered Steen's syrup. Mr. C.S. Steen established his syrup business in 1902 to salvage his frozen cane crop. Steen's still uses the same recipe today. It reminds me of the Alaga from long ago. I love to slice open day-old biscuits, spread them with soft butter, douse them with Steen's and warm them in the microwave until the butter is flowing like a river through the syrup. I also stir it into my coffee with some half 'n' half. Yum!

1 comment:

Beverly said...

I had no idea you were such a syrup conoisseur (sp?)! Thanks for the sweet memories!