Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network


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Food: Molasses

Any soil will produce a crop of sorghum cane but the loamy, well drained variety is the best. The ground should be well prepared in the spring with plowing, harrowing, etc., until it is well pulverized, and then after all danger from frost is over, the seed is dropped along in rows, a little bunch of seed every foot or so apart. It is immediately covered with a harrow and left to sprout and send the tiny green grass blades through the ground which occurs about a week after planting.

Later when the rows are quite definitely seen it is furrowed out with a marker and then watered and cultivated during the summer the same as corn, which it quite closely resembles. As it matures it produces a bunch of seed at the top, like the tassel on the corn plant and when this turns dark brown and is hard like wheat, the cane is ready to be cut. The pioneers used to bring the women and girls to the fields and at harvest time they would go up and down the rows with short, stout sticks and strip the long leaves from the stalks, which sometimes grew eight and ten feet high. The cane was then cut just above the ground with a short hoe and laid across the furrows in piles. The seed was cut from the top and hauled away to be used as grain for poultry or animals, though in some cases it had to be ground in hand and used for bread. It produced a coarse, dark product that was not too palatable. The cane was either left lying in the field for awhile; or if the molasses mill was in readiness for operation, was hauled to the mill and placed in piles ready for use.

The mill consisted of a crusher that was run by horse power and a long tin boiler about three by six or eight feet, and about eight or ten inches deep that could be made by any local tinsmith. The last stages of the molasses making were sometimes quite an event and much more interesting than the earlier phases. Usually one farmer skilled in the art set up a mill and made the sorghum for all his neighbors. The cane was fed by hand, a few stalks at a time, into a crusher that extracted the juice from the cane and ran it into a vessel. All day a man sat feeding it from a pile placed nearby, and at intervals calling out to the horse that was fastened to the end of a long pole protruding from the crusher, to "git along there." The horse went round and round in a never ending circle at a slow steady pace furnishing the power for squeezing out the precious juice. Only when a fresh supply of cane had to be placed near the mill, the crushed pulp removed or the buckets emptied did he get a chance to stop.

When the juice was extracted, it was placed in the large tin boiler that had been erected on a built foundation resembling a furnace open at one end with a chimney at the other. A fire was made of old cottonwood logs or anything that would produce a slow, steady blaze that would keep the juice boiling but not burn it. At first a green foamy scum arose to the surface, and must be skimmed off if a dear syrup was to be produced. These skimmings were taken off with a long handled scoop of either tin or wood and dumped into a barrel.

The boiling and skimming was a delicate operation and had to be watched carefully lest it boil over or burn and cause great loss. All day long the boiling went on, the moisture rising in clouds of steam from the thin greenish fluid which gradually turned into a thicker amber syrup. At the close of the day, the fire died lower and lower, and when the syrup was of the right consistency it was dipped into five, ten, twenty or even thirty gallon barrels that had been made of local pine timber for the molasses barrels.

Each farmer had to provide his own container and haul his share away; the one who ran the mill received his pay in molasses. If a surplus was produced, it was loaded in wagons and taken to the northern settlements to be traded for flour, cheese or anything that could be used by these pioneers.

Often when peaches were plentiful a wonderful batch of peach preserves was made at the mill. When a batch of sorghum was nearly done, several tubsful of peaches were dumped into the boiler and boiled with the syrup for several hours, until the whole mass was well blended, then it was dumped into a barrel and hauled away as a table delicacy for some family during the winter.

Source: Our Pioneer Heritage © Carter, Kate B., ed. 20 vols. Salt Lake City: International Society, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958-1977. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher. Documents and images are exerpted by permission from the LDS Family History Suite CDROM from Ancestry.