Appalachia Appalachian Food

Long Sweetening and Short Sweetening

sorghum syrup

A few years back Blind Pig reader Paula Rhodarmer left this comment:

“Dear Tipper,  I too love honey mixed with butter, and I also love good, country-made molasses mixed with butter and slathered over a home-made biscuit. Sadly, I have to be super careful how often and how many I eat. I would like to sit down to some and not get up until I’ve had my fill, like I used to do. I remember my grandmother referring to molasses and honey as long sweetening and short sweetening. I can’t remember which was which, but that is what she called them. Have you or any of your readers heard them called that?

Here’s what the “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English” had to say about long sweetening and short sweetening.

long sweetening noun Heavy, liquid sweetener, usu molasses or honey.
1895 Edson and Fairchild Tenn Mts 372 Will you have some long sweetening from this jug? 1955 Parris Roaming Mts 153 An old timer is one who remembers…when long sweetening was honey and short sweetening was maple sugar. c1995 Pioneer Farmstead 10 Sorghum cane was for the pioneer the source of molasses, sometimes called “long sweetening” because of its rope-like texture. It was eaten straight from the jar or used in cooking as a general substitute for sugar. 1999 Montgomery Coll. = only molasses (Cardwell).

short sweetening noun Usu cane sugar.
1955 Parris Roaming Mts 153 An old timer is one who remembers…when long sweetening was honey and short sweetening was maple sugar. 1999 Montgomery Coll. = grain sugar (Cardwell)

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

It seems like I remember Roy Pipes also leaving a comment about long sweetening being sorghum syrup. Have you ever heard the sweetening terms?


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  • Reply
    September 30, 2020 at 1:38 pm

    Well add me to the list of not knowing the terms ,longer or short sweetening ..but even though I’ve already had breakfast a good while ago, the thought of a hot biscuit slathered with honey or sorghum …or good jelly 🙂 does beckon me to go fix me one …. tis yummy. My granddaddy loved butter mashed into white karo syrup on a hot biscuit. I like that too…. apple butter is great too. It’s a lovely day here weather wise, hope it is where you are too.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2020 at 8:42 am

    Like several others here I’m not familiar with these terms so thank you for bringing this up! But before any jelly or jam hot butter and honey is my favorite spread on a biscuit!

  • Reply
    September 28, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    I remember growing up, we grew our own sugarcane. To this day I could show you exactly where. I remember the taste. Good and sweet, what a treat is was to suck on a piece of the stalk. I also love honey and butter one good hot biscuit. Molasses to. It’s all good.

    • Reply
      September 29, 2020 at 8:44 am

      did you grow it to harvest and sell or was it just a personal garden? either way it sounds like a huge treat to grow up near!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 28, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    I don’t know the long and short of it (pun intended) but I do know that sugar cane and sorghum ain’t the same thing. Sugar comes from sugar cane but I never seen sorghum sugar. Maybe you have? Sugar cane grows into a large diameter tall stalk while sorghum for syrup is smaller and thinner. At least in my experience. Cane syrup comes in a variety of forms from thin and almost clear to almost black and bitter but sorghum is just sorghum.

  • Reply
    September 28, 2020 at 11:39 am

    I’ve never heard those terms, but I love honey and butter on a hot, homemade biscuit.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    September 28, 2020 at 10:28 am

    Tipper–I’ve always thought of blackstrap molasses as long sweetening and cane syrup (clear) as short sweetening. Of course both are made from cane, and at least one pointy-headed academician who is a supposed authority on Appalachian foodstuffs insists that no molasses was ever made in the mountains (saying only sub-tropical sugar cane produces molasses).
    For my part, if old-timers called it molasses I’m not about to disagree. As for long and short, all I can say for certain that when they adorn a cathead biscuit nicely lathered with butter, you have food for the gods.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    September 28, 2020 at 10:26 am

    I vaguely remember “long sweetening” from my grandmother’s table. Hoping the church I buy molasses from every year have plans to continue making it this fall.

  • Reply
    September 28, 2020 at 9:56 am

    No, as a matter of fact have thought it somewhat odd that nobody I knew ever ate molasses that I know of. We rarely ate syrup with pancakes, and I still eat them with just butter unless I have a sweet tooth. Referring to what Paula said, I was just recently thinking about Mom mixing a concoction of brown sugar with a little water and adding butter. We children would sometimes do that. Another habit unique to our household, and many of Mom’s siblings did the same. We rarely drink with a meal. Coffee with breakfast is different. Mom’s explanation was it encouraged washing down food, and you were more apt to chew better and slower. We were never inclined to drink a soft drink with food. Apparently she learned this from her Mother who had 12 children. That would have been a lot of spilled drinks at the table.

    • Reply
      September 28, 2020 at 9:50 pm

      Digestion begins in the mouth. There are enzymes/chemicals in saliva that begins to break down the nutrients in the food. If you wash the food down too quickly that can’t happen. The stomach continues the process.

    • Reply
      December 16, 2020 at 3:14 pm

      We were taught to drink after our meal was done for the fact that: if we filled up on water, we wouldn’t finish our food. Here today as adults we still won’t drink until after our plates are empty. Many people have commented to us that this is odd.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 28, 2020 at 8:46 am

    While sorghum was a household staple in a lot of homes in my growing up years, I do not recall ever hearing ‘long’ or ‘short’ sweetening. Until this post, I had always been a bit mystified as to which was which when I read either term. (And I much suspect that if the terms were heard they would be used inconsistently now.)

    I do not have an idea why but sorghum was not commonly grown in southeastern KY. I do not recall having seen a cane mill until I was probably in my teen years or thereabouts. I’m guessing there were only 4 or 5 sorghum growers in the county then and fewer, if any, now.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    September 28, 2020 at 8:11 am

    I know my Parents never used those names and I don’t remember my Grandparents using them either.
    I have a friend who does this to his sorghum molasses and know of other people doing it. He heats his molasses and adds baking soda until it’s hot and foamy, then pours it over his biscuits.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    September 28, 2020 at 8:00 am

    Tipper this story reminded me when we used to cut firewood . The fire service would a lot trees we bought . We had a good time cutting wood . Each family did this and we would all go help family members to help them , take a picnic oh what joy.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 28, 2020 at 8:00 am

    That’s interesting but I don ever recall hearing the expression long sweetening and short sweetening. I assume from the book references that their use was dependent on where you lived.

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