What Old-School Southerners Put On Their Biscuits, And We're Not Talking About Butter

If you’ve tried it, you probably have a Southern grandma.

Photo: Southern Living

There's nothing that exists in the repertoire of Southern cuisine that can ever compare to the power of the biscuit. The layers of buttery, flaky goodness are celebrated as the pinnacle of baking genius to the people who grew up eating them. Despite universal appreciation amongst Southerners, we can get quite passionate about how biscuits should be handled, and we're not so keen to ever abandon grandma's classic buttermilk recipe.

Apart from harboring specific opinions on what makes the best biscuit recipe, many Southerners are even particular about how to eat them. A great biscuit doesn't necessarily need anything to gussy it up, but there's always room for a finishing touch. For as long as biscuits have been made in the South, there's been butter to go with them. Though, it doesn't stop there. Some old-fashioned Southerners like to skip the butter altogether and prefer something a little bit sweeter. Cane syrup used to be a traditional biscuit accompaniment at Southern restaurants and at home. In fact, at one time, it was common for sweet accouterments like cane syrup and honey to be offered alongside biscuits at every meal, not just breakfast.

"For Southerners who were raised to use cane syrup on their mama's biscuits at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert, it has nostalgia that goes beyond the taste."

While the molasses-like appearance can initially seem intimidating to many—including kids whose parent or grandparent swear by the combination and implore them to try it—the flavor is truly unique. Furthermore, it's a cultural custom that will be forgotten if not passed down. For Southerners who were raised to use cane syrup on their mama's biscuits at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert, it has nostalgia that goes beyond the taste. During an era when overly sweet items like candy and confections weren't always bought regularly for the home, it was the ultimate treat.

What Is Cane Syrup?

Sugarcane has been a historic agricultural product of Southern states for centuries, and as a result, cane syrup was a staple at general stores and groceries. (Southern-based cane syrup such as Steen's 100% Pure Cane Syrup have been around over 100 years.) Cane syrup is made from sugarcane juice, which is simmered until it forms a thick, dark syrup that resembles molasses in both appearance and taste. Compared against lighter syrups such as maple syrup, the flavor is more intensely concentrated with an almost toasty finish. The sweetness is balanced out by a very subtle bitterness.

Steen's Cane Syrup

Cane syrup once appeared in glass syrup dispensers alongside the butter pats and jelly packets at restaurants, particularly during the 1900s. However, in more recent years, mass-produced maple syrup has replaced cane syrup in many households and restaurants. Now, the heirloom syrup has been largely forgotten altogether amongst younger generations, and you might no longer find it supplied on the table at your hometown breakfast haunt.

If you've never tried it, just know that you're missing out on taking a bite back in time, which can easily be rectified with a trip to the grocery store. (A warm biscuit is imperative for the full experience.) If you have tried it, you probably have a Southern grandma.

While you have it in the pantry, use cane syrup to make our vintage Louisiana Syrup Cake.

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