By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.
Recently Patcie Deck mentioned in her column about sorghum cooking and it really brought back memories. Even though I’ve done a column on this some years back, I thought it might be interesting for you to hear from someone who participated in it first hand.Of course as a kid I wasn’t allowed to do any of the actual cooking, but I did just about everything else.
Today when I look across a field of milo from a distance, it reminds me of a field of sorghum except the sorghum head was a burgundy color. The first step was to strip the stalks, using a wooden paddle.
Papa Badley said that years ago they would bind the stripped leaves into bundles called fodder and feed it to the livestock—they weren’t doing it in my time. Next they would come back with a machete and cut down the stalks and cut off the heads. The heads were saved for chicken feed and the stalks were loaded on a wagon and taken to the mill. Most farmers didn’t have a mill, but hired a professional cooker who would bring his own mill. Before the cooking process started two trenches were dug, one for the fire under pan and the other where the cooker would stand. The mill would be set up about 10 feet from the pan, leaving a walkway for the mule who went in a circle hitched to a long pole which ran the grinder. The cane was unloaded on a rack and one man fed it into the grinder. The juice ran through a strainer over a barrel and into a pipe leading to the pan. The pan was divided into sections so the cooker would have raw juice in the first section and was juiced in different sections until the last, which was the finished molasses.
These cookers were really artists at their trade—fail to cook it enough and it was inedible and would soon spoil, cook it too much and you had something like taffy. Among cookers I can remember are Cliff Terrell, Frances Stewart’s father, Isaac Shepherd, Ab King, and a black gentleman named Mitchell Cox. Papa used all of them at one time and I think Mr. Cox was the kids’ favorite, as he would carry on a conversation and let us dip a stalk of cane in the finished product and we would lick it like a popsicle.
The Franklin family in the Mt. Olivet community have been cooking sorghum for generations and have a great product, but their operation is more up to date whereas I only have my memories of the way it was when I was a kid. I hope you enjoy reading out it as much as I did writing about it.
My email address is email@example.com or write me at P.O. box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.