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Marshall via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

We hear a lot about heirloom varieties and heritage breeds, but there is another category of food that harkens back to the good old days. Although we don't see ingredients such as buttermilk, apple butter and lard very often, they still are out there. And so is molasses, that historic concoction that helped create America. Chef Jerry Pellegrino will tell you even though we don't always have it on hand, it is still a very useful ingredient.



A significant part of early American history involved the making and marketing of molasses. From the earliest colonial days, the Caribbean islands were cherished for their ability to grow sugar cane, the most valuable commodity in the world. The refining process of converting raw cane to granular sugar results in a residual juice which can be further refined into the lighter "cane molasses", which is sweet and used in baking. If the juice is boiled down a second time it becomes "dark molasses", a less sweet, thick syrup that is often used in savory dishes. A third boil will yield "blackstrap" molasses, with next to no sweetness, but dark, earthy, savory flavors which are great for hearty savory dishes.

Jerry is very fond of molasses and uses it frequently. Here are some ideas he has come up with.

Boston Baked Beans 


2 cups navy beans

½ pound bacon

1 onion, finely diced

3 tablespoons dark molasses

2 teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon dry mustard

½ cup ketchup

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup brown sugar

Soak beans overnight in cold water. Simmer the beans in the same water until tender, approximately 1 to 2 hours. Drain and reserve the liquid.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

Arrange the beans in a 2-quart bean pot or casserole dish by placing a portion of the beans in the bottom of dish, and layering them with bacon and onion.

In a saucepan, combine molasses, salt, pepper, dry mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and pour over beans. Pour in just enough of the reserved bean water to cover the beans. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil.

Bake for 3 to 4 hours in the preheated oven, until beans are tender. Remove the lid about halfway through cooking, and add more liquid if necessary, to prevent the beans from getting too dry.


Big Al’s KC BBQ Sauce


2 cups ketchup

2 cups tomato sauce

1 ¼ cups brown sugar

1 ¼ cups red wine vinegar

½ cup unsulfured molasses

4 teaspoons hickory-flavored liquid smoke

2 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon celery seed

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

In a large saucepan over medium heat, mix together the ketchup, tomato sauce, brown sugar, wine vinegar, molasses, liquid smoke and butter. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, paprika, celery seed, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for up to 20 minutes. For thicker sauce, simmer longer, and for thinner, less time is needed. Sauce can also be thinned using a bit of water if necessary. Brush sauce onto any kind of meat during the last 10 minutes of cooking.


Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.