Making molasses is an art that has been passed down through our family for generations. I have early childhood memories of the smell of wood smoke and the steam rolling off the pan on those cool late September mornings. I remember those perfect biscuits that only a Mammaw could fix and how much fun it was to taste what was left in the box after the molasses had been poured out. I miss listening to all the stories my Pappaw would tell as family, friends and neighbors would gather to experience the molasses process.
I learned to grow cane and process molasses from my grandfather (Pappaw) in which had been passed down to him by his father. Pappaw believed in hard work and doing things right the first time. He came up in a time of growing your own food and working hard, a time when you didn’t have to worry about locking your doors and a time when a man’s word of truth was all that you needed.
Five years ago my Pappaw decided it was time to pass the art on to me and my three sons. Fighting cancer, he was no longer able to put in the long hours stripping the fodder, cutting the cane or standing over the heat for long periods of time. He gave me his seed that has been kept for generations, his cane grinder mill and both his cooking pans. It was up to us to build a shed and construct a masonry furnace.
The process starts in early spring with planning and ground preparation, just like with any other crop. We lime, subsoil then plow the land sometime in February. In April we will disc the land to prepare for a seedbed. Sometime around the 10th of May with just the right amount of fertilizer we will finish disc and plant the cane seed. Once the cane germinates we often go back through and thin the crop to ensure proper spacing and population. We will continue to cultivate and fertilize until layby.
The cane will grow and in August will begin to develop seed heads. We watch these seed heads go from green to orange then to a deep red. Once the cane is mature (deep red), we go in around September 15th and strip the fodder leaving only head and stalk. In five days we go back and top the seed head and pick the stalk, by hand, to carry to the farm. Once at the farm we press the stalk to squeeze the juice through filters and into an 80 gallon pan that sets on the wood fired furnace. It takes about 6-7 hours to cook the juice from 80 gallons down to a finished product of 6-7 gallons of molasses. The molasses are filtered and poured into jars or bottles.
To this day, my favorite part is pouring out of the pan then taste testing our product on a hot biscuit!
Stripping the cane