Nothing Was Wasted From Sorghum Crop
By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week. This is the first time in over thirty years that I haven’t had a child to enter in school. First it was Terri. then Jamie, and then Elizabeth and believe it or not, there is an empty feeling. Of course Shelby is entering Kindergarten but since she lives with her mother, I’m not directly involved. I am probably a minority, but I think starting school in the middle of August during the hottest season is ridiculous.
Of course the argument now is that the schools are air conditioned and it is really no hardship. Since I am of the old school, (no pun intended), I see no reason why the one hundred and eighty days mandated as a school year couldn’t be from September to June. In my day we started Tuesday after Labor Day and we probably got as good or better education than the one today.
This is probably a good place for me to stop before I break the original premise of no politics in this column, but I’m still not convinced that I’m not right. Betty, I’m not trying to stray into your area of expertise, but I just have to share this with all of you. One of our friends brought in a watermelon and it was delicious and I casually mentioned that I had heard Nannie Badley and other older people talk about watermelon rind preserves and that I had never tasted them.
Lupe, who could have had a career as a chef if she hadn’t chosen the medical field, started slicing the rinds and cooking preserves. Needless to say they were delicious. I would be interested if anyone out there has ever done this and would welcome any comments. Now Betty, that is the extent of my wandering into your field. It’s hard to believe that fall will soon be here and that brings up another subject.
Papa Badley always raised a large Sorghum crop as well as watermelons. In the fall they would begin “stripping” the stalks in preparation to cutting the cane. Papa said in his young days they would gather the leaves into bundles that they called fodder and feed it to the stock. Nothing was wasted because after they cut the cane, the heads were cut off and fed to the chickens. Papa never had his own mill but would hire someone who worked for different farms on a percent of the production.
The earliest I remember was Mr. AB King and then Mitchell Cox. Mr. Cox was a black man who had a farm next to Charlie Goodwin and he cooked molasses all around that area. Mr. Cox was a friendly outgoing man who would take the time to talk to us kids.
He would let us take a short piece of cane and dip it in the molasses and enjoy the great taste. The cooking pan was divided into sections with a removable gate that would allow the juice to travel to the next section. It was a job that took considerable skill as to how long to keep it in each section and finally to know when the product was finished. The mill itself was operated by a mule hitched to a long pole and he would walk in a circle around the grinder. One person fed the cane into the grinder and the juice poured through a strainer in a barrel that fed the juice through a pipe into the cooking pan. It was slow but it produced some of the finest molasses in the country. Papa always had several hundred cans cooked off each year.
Notice I said cans, not gallons. The molasses can or bucket was actually a short gallon –why I never knew. Papa said he was lucky to sell a bucket for fifty cents. Today a small jar sells for almost five dollars. My dad always said that sorghum molasses kept much of the rural south from pellagra, which was caused by a deficiency of iron. The favorite way to eat molasses was to take a hot biscuit, mix butter into the molasses and dip the biscuit into the mixture fit for a king.
Mr. Isaac Shepherd was another well known molasses cook and in later years I believe Mr. Cliff Terrell was one of the last to cook molasses in Yalobusha County. I hope this stirs some memories for some of you who were part of my generation, and informs some of you younger people how it was back then. Let me hear from you at my email address firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.