So over the weekend, Emily and I went on a road trip to Pleasureville, KY. Thumper told Bambi what his Mom had pounded into his head, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. In regard to Pleasureville, KY, I will follow the Thumperian Principle and let you visit sometime to make up your own mind.
Anyhow, back to my main purpose…let me give you some back story… Sorghum is a plant native to Africa that was first raised in the United States in 1853 or so. Much like sugar cane, sorghum cane has a sweet core that can be pressed and boiled to make sorghum syrup (some people call it molasses or sorghum molasses. Molasses is technically made from sugar cane only).
It was commonly grown on farms in the south where sugar cane wouldn’t thrive (i.e. the mid-south) so families could have access to sweetener. Anyhow, as family farms declined in number and as artificial sweeteners grew in popularity and cheap labor (I read this as large farm families) became less accessible, sorghum fell by the wayside.
There really isn’t anyone making sorghum presses, at least not in the old style, so the only ones left are 100 or more years old. There are a few old cane mills left but they are becoming more and more scarce as old-timers pass away and old farms rot back to the land. There are a few people still willing to turn loose of an old cane press they have laying around, but it is hard and expensive to find them. That brings us to our trip to KY. We bought an old sorghum cane mill made by the Chattanooga Plow Company from a guy who had one there.
I have another bit of info you didn’t ask for but I am going to tell anyhow…Chattanooga Plow Company made plows and basic cast iron farm equipment and was a very large producer in the mid to late 1800s. They were bought by International Harvester when it appeared John Deere was going to get into the harvester business. JD had been absent in that market while focusing on plows and similar implements. When IH got word that JD might be getting into harvesters, IH decided to get into plows. (Read a really interesting history here). So, ultimately, my cane mill is in the International Harvester family.
I also have bees, as you may know, so you could say I have a thing for sweets. What really made me think about raising sorghum though, is a recent article in Mother Earth News (here’s the article). Basically, as folks long to understand old ways and to eat natural food or produce their own “stuff”, sorghum has enjoyed a bit of a revival. I read the story in Mother Earth News and read a bunch more online and was hooked on the idea. Getting started in any new endeavor can be a problem if you do not have folks around who understand how to do things, like, say, grow and process sorghum.
I am very fortunate that Granny Sue, my neighbor, used to process sorghum on her farm and the man who originally owned both her land and mine, also ran sorghum. I think this new project was meant to be! I have a few months to restore this old cane mill while our sorghum grows, and I will be sure to keep you up to date on that process. I hope some other folks in the area will plant sorghum so we can have a regular old fashioned sorghum cook-off. I think that’s a big part of the old ways too…doing thing as a community.