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The Franklin Golden Syrup Recipes cookbook (ca. 1910 according to Michigan State University’s Little Cookbooks collection) has a recipe for Fruit Cake and a recipe for Franklin Peanut Bars that call for “Franklin Old Fashioned Brown Sugar”.

In the Fruit Cake recipe, this old fashioned brown sugar is creamed with butter:

In a large earthen bowl cream the butter and the sugar.

In the Peanut Bars recipe, it is brought (along with Franklin Golden Syrup and Franklin Granulated Sugar) to firm ball stage:

Cook with constant stirring to 260° F. or until the mixture forms a firm ball when tested in cold water.

Modern authors seem to use old fashioned to refer to dark brown sugar, although usually as an aside.

Light vs. Dark Brown Sugar: “Dark brown sugar (also called old-fashioned brown sugar) tends to be reserved primarily for recipes like baked beans, gingerbread, spice cakes, and other dishes where you really want a deep molasses flavor.”

Food.com: “Very dark or old-fashioned brown sugar has a more intense molasses flavor.”

The Gentle Chef’s Old-Fashioned Brown Sugar (Organic) appears to be less an attempt to emulate an old-fashioned brown sugar, than to create a modern brown sugar substitute with organic ingredients.

A search on archive.org for mention of old fashioned brown sugar (likely skewed to older cookbooks that are now in the public domain) finds a few references:

  • The 1927 Photoplay’s Cook Book: 100 Favorite Recipes of the Stars has one recipe that calls for it, Gloria Swanson’s Cream Fudge on page 41.
  • The 1912-13 Grayville Cook Book has a recipe for Pumpkin Pie (pp. 75 and 81—it’s the same recipe in both places) that calls for old fashioned brown sugar; it also has several recipes that call for dark brown sugar. However, since this is a community cookbook that could reflect a different contributor style rather than a distinction between dark brown sugar and old fashioned brown sugar. None of Mrs. B.F. Batson’s other recipes in the book call for dark brown sugar.
  • The 1926 Potters and Potteries of Bennington is not a cookbook but has an interesting anecdote on page 158 about discoloration: “Although the tea-pot in its long history was often filled with tea or coffee and set upon the kitchen stove, it is much less discolored than the sugar-bowl. For a long time I could not account for this fact, but now I know that the old-fashioned brown sugar frequently had this effect upon all sorts of white china.”
  • The 1958 Cousineau Sur la Baie a distinction is made between maple sugar and old fashioned brown sugar on page 10: “There was no white sugar in the bowls but maple sugar scraped fine, or the old fashioned brown sugar they used for baking pies, cakes, and puddings.”
  • The 1921 Timely Truths on Human Health, quoting from an earlier 1918 work, says on page 62 that “Twenty-five years ago, old-fashioned brown sugar manufactured on the sugar cane plantation, was in common use. Such sugar possessed not only all the sweetness of the cane, but also all of its aromatic and nutritive substances, including mineral salts, which are no longer present.”
  • The April 1918 Cuba Review on page 27, on the other hand, says that old-fashioned brown sugar gets its colors from caramelization. “At 320° F.… sugar… rapidly takes on an amber hue… If heated to higher temperature it browns, becoming less sweet and acquiring a somewhat bitter flavor. This browned sugar is called caramel. Old-fashioned brown sugar owed its color and flavor, at least partly, to caramel, for the process of manufacture formerly used involved evaporation over an open fire, which caused some of the sugar to become caramelized or half burnt…”
  • The Canadian Grocer of October 19, 1917 has an advertisement for Lantic Sugar’s Old-Fashioned Brown Sugar on page 49, calling it “absolutely pure, natural soft sugars, free from coloring matter” that “Makes such Delicious Preserves and Pickles”.
  • According to a recipe for Apple Pudding on page 4 of the April 23, 1937 Winchester Star, Domino also had an Old-Fashioned Brown Sugar.
  • The 1902 Pandex laments that “Old-Fashioned Brown Sugar with All Its Delights Is Gone” in an anecdote on page 150: “That isn’t brown sugar. It’s the kind you fellows all over town have been trying to sell me for brown sugar, but it isn’t brown; it’s a pale, whitish, sickly yellow. What I call brown sugar is the kind mother used to sweeten the pies with when I was a kid… It was dark and coarse-grained and full of lumps as big as your fist. There was more of the concentrated essence of sweetness in one of those lumps than in a whole shovelful of this yellow stuff…”

Is old-fashioned brown sugar marketed circa 1910 from sugar companies such as Franklin Sugar Refining Company like modern brown sugar (that is, white sugar with molasses added in varying amounts to vary the color and flavor), or is it something else?

Franklin Golden Syrup Fruit Cake

Franklin Golden Syrup Peanut Bars

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    You actually need to know what the Franklin Sugar Refinery called "Old fashioned brown sugar" rather than how the term was used in general. If you really want the answer to this, apparently there's a Franklin Research Center in Philly with their archives.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 8, 2022 at 21:37
  • ALso: 1910 is in the middle of America's conversion from white sugar to brown sugar. So it's also possible that all brown sugar was called old-fashioned at the time.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 8, 2022 at 21:39
  • Are you sure that modern brown sugar is made from white sugar with added in molasses? I was under the impression that sugar is initially brown and white sugar is made from brown sugar by some suitable bleaching.
    – quarague
    Jun 9, 2022 at 12:44
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    @quarague: that is how most commercial brown sugar is made. The molasses and the white sugar crystals are separated, and then recombined to produce several grades of standard "darkness". It is not how brown sugar was made 150 years ago, which is why the OP question is relevant -- which one is meant?
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 9, 2022 at 22:21
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    Ooops! One of the papers I looked up cited the Franklin RC, and I assumed it was founded by the sugar company. But it's actually named after John Hope Franklin, a famous Black professor, and the name is just a coincidence. Sorry!
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 11, 2022 at 22:53

1 Answer 1

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There are three kinds of brown sugar this could be:

  1. Modern dark brown sugar, which (as noted) is made by separating the white sugar from the molasses and then recombining them. This would not actually be "old-fashioned" in 1910, but it could have been marketed as such by the Franklin Sugar Refinery.
  2. Dried, unpurified, sugar cane juice, known as "jaggery" or "gur shakkar" in Indian markets, which are the main places to acquire it. This would indeed be "old-fashioned", and is available in both ground and cake form.
  3. Piloncillo, which is dark brown sugar made through the heat-evaporation/caramelization method as described in your Cuban source.

Of these, (2) feels like the best option since it is truly "old-fashioned", and matches the description in the Pandex source. However, I have no source confirming that it is what Franklin would have marketed in 1910, and that year is well after the culmination of the campaign against natural brown sugars by Domino and Franklin. For that reason, what they sold could actually have been (1), a more "hygenic" brown sugar.

(3) feels the least likely because Piloncillo has never really caught on in non-Spanish-speaking areas. Also it's always sold in cones or cakes, making it hard to measure by the cupful; recipes usually call for it by the cone or by weight.

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