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Family Sunday event tells A Sweet Story
Program held at Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville
Annabeth Poole places a gingerbread cookie on a sheet for baking during the Family Day at the Northeast Georgia History Center Sunday. - photo by Tom Reed

It’s always been sweet to live in the South. At the Northeast Georgia History Center’s Family Day event, “A Sweet Story,” visitors got to make and sample sweet treats the old-fashioned way and learn a little bit of history, too.

Dannella Burnett of Oakwood Occasions provided two cooking demonstrations Sunday, one that included caramel peach upside-down cake.

“What would desserts be in Georgia without peaches?” she asked, beginning her cake demonstration.

The recipe, which was passed around, looked pretty complex on paper, especially the part about making caramel peaches.

But Burnett’s presentation made the whole thing seem much less involved. And that was the idea.

“When you demonstrate something,” Burnett said, “it really is quite simple.”

Melissa McCollum, 56, of Braselton watched the demonstration and asked questions throughout. She said she did some cooking and baking, and attended the Family Day to learn more about the background of sweet food.

“I wanted to know more about the historical context of it,” she said.

Between demonstrations there were tables waiting with sweet treats.

Sarah Nelson, 13, of Gainesville started off at the gingerbread table. It was a little crowded at one side, so she decorated a gingerbread man first, then went back to the beginning and rolled out another from dough. This activity is what brought her to Family Day.

“I heard they were making gingerbread men,” she said, “and that made me want to come because it sounded really fun.”

Ginger has been around for thousands of years, volunteer Carolyn Mahar said as she helped children roll out the dark gingerbread dough. “It has been used not only for edible purposes, but for medicinal purposes.”

Nelson’s brother, Richard, 10, had already gone to the next table and encouraged his older sister to check it out. At this table were three jars of old-fashioned sweeteners: sorghum syrup, honey and blackstrap molasses. Participants could try each on a piece of corn bread or biscuit, then vote on their favorite.

“I dare you to eat the molasses first,” Richard Nelson, who was clearly not a fan, said to his sister.

But Sarah said she preferred it to the honey, though the honey had the most votes.

“Molasses doesn’t taste that bad. It’s good,” she said, and added, “I don’t like honey.”

Ellen Nelson, 49, brought her three children, Sarah, Richard and Rebecca, in hopes they might learn how life used to be. She remembers eating sorghum syrup made from sugar cane when she was little.

“We would mix it with real butter and spread it on a biscuit and eat it,” she said.

For Julie Carson, the center’s developer of educational programs, bringing back the past was the whole point.

“We looked at what our ancestors would use,” she said. “They didn’t have refined sugar.”

Once visitors made gingerbread, voted on their favorite sweeteners, sampled apple butter and learned about a sorghum press, they had the opportunity to take home the food recipes on a card and learn about the tradition of recipe sharing.

“It’s part of our history,” volunteer Beth Feizet said. “It’s not so much about the food, it’s the retention of history.”

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