Appalachia Gardening Pap Preserving/Canning

Molasses Making

molasses making in Haywood County nc

Molasses making in Haywood County NC

molasses boiling, molasses making, molasses stir off noun A social work activity, sometimes lasting all day, at which the juice of sorghum cane is squeezed and slowly boiled, producing a thick syrup that became a principal sweetener for traditional mountain food. The syrup was sometimes fashioned into candy, esp by young couples, by pulling stretches or “ropes” of it until they cooled into sticks, and eaten.ย 1922 Tenn Civil War Ques 18 [School] amed to run 3 mos but stoped through fodder pulling and molasses making. 1939 Campbell Play-Party 18 Clearings, log-rollings, house-raisings, corn-shuckings, bean stringings, apple peelings, ‘lasses stir-offs, and quiltings, though said to be not as common as they once were, still survive. 1945 O’Dell Old Mills 4 Molasses making were gala occasions. Neighbors often helped with the tedious task. After all was finished, the last run was allowed to boil until it was ready for candy. While it cooled, all hands were washed in the nearby stream, greased thoroughly, and then each Jack chose his Jill for the candy-pulling. 1966 Frome Strangers 240 He remembered how the farmers never hired hands for wheat threshing, but would help each other; how the boys and girls shucked corn together and had a time telling tales and singing, as they did at spelling bees and “‘lasses boilings.” 1982 Maples Memories 12 I still got to see the “lassie making” though. We kids would be on our way from school, and Uncle Burt Ogle would be making molasses. We would see the old mule going round and round, grinding out the juice of the sugar cane, as one of the men would feed the mill.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


It’s the time of the year for molasses making. Pap always called molasses sorghum syrup or just plain syrup so that’s what I think of it as. Pap’s father, my Papaw Wade, was known for his sorghum syrup making skills. Pap told me stories about Papaw Wade going around the territory to help others with their syrup after he had finished his own.

After I was married and started growing a garden I told Pap I wanted to grow cane and that he could teach me to make syrup. I still remember the way he laughed as he said “Why Tipper you ain’t go nowhere to grow cane. It takes a whole lot to make syrup and you can’t grow it on the the side of the mountain.



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  • Reply
    Vera Guthrie
    October 22, 2020 at 9:42 am

    My uncle once said my Mama made the best biscuits because you could drag them through molasses without them coming apart LOL. I love molasses and biscuits on a cold winter morning.

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    Auther Ray
    June 27, 2020 at 4:49 pm

    My Grand Pa used to have a mill and made sorghum. I still love sorghum.

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    Bill Burnett
    January 1, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    When I was a youngster the only time I got to lay out of school was when we made sorghum, however it involved several days of hard work. The labor started in the spring with the planting of the cane them moved into the summer with the hoeing and cutting,splitting and ricking the wood for the furnace then finally in the fall we had to strip the fodder, stack it to dry then top the cane (cutting the seeds of the top of the cane). We had a boiler built just above the Swinging Bridge between the road and the river and our mill set up above the road where the juice would gravity flow to the boiler when we opened the spigot, My job now became cutting the stalks and hauling them to the mill, my dad ground the cane and my maternal grandfather fan the boiler and kept the skimmings off the syrup and dumped in barrels to later mix with ground corn, cobs and shucks for cattle feed. We always cooked in a large boiler and not an evaporator which allows cane juice to run down through channels but allows much of the juice to remain uncooked giving the syrup a greenish color much like motor oil which will turn to sugar, Our boiler syrup had a golden brownish color and wouldn’t turn to sugar. I can look at sorghum till this day and tell if it was made in an evaporator or a boiler. We usually made three to four hundred gallons of syrup a year and sold what we didn’t keep for our consumption for $3.00 a gallon. I still have our horse drawn mill and when I look at it it brings back mixed emotions of the hard work involved and the wonderful taste of the syrup on homemade biscuits or pancakes along with home churned butter. Some Old Timers would mix Bacon dripping with the syrup and mix it vigorously until it turned white then apply their biscuits.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    October 31, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    Tipper my dad made syrup until I was about 4 then he stopped . My brother in law Weldon helped dad then Weldon moved his family to Marietta Ga I have seen poor sweat so and I was small but that sweat went into the syrup and I never ate much of it unless it was in Gingerbread. Weldon skimmed the nurtrision away now it is called black strap molession donโ€™t care for it. My hubby put some on my oatmeal one morning just about turned me againist oatmeal too but shore do love that ginger bread I made a ginger bread fruit cake they are good using all sorted candy fruits and lots of nuts. May your tongue slap your brain out sooo good

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    October 10, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    We are very fortunate to have Museum of Appalachia, by John Rice Irwin, now supported by The Smithsonian Institute, near by. The annual Tennessee Fall Homecoming happened this past weekend. It is an event that everyone who loves Appalachia should attend.
    The great music and musicians, the traditional mountain dance demonstrations, the special events and attractions of the festival are wonderful; too numerous and singularly important to attempt a listing. But … among the folkways demonstrations, for example, one can get to see sorghum juice rendering on a sorghum press, mule-driven. As Ed Ammons points out, not the same as cane syrup, if only because the raw materials are somewhat different.
    In her book, The Ballad of Tom Dooley, author Sharyn McCrumb often uses “lassus-makin” get-togethers in nineteenth century Appalachia as party-like settings where boys would aim to do some sparkin’ with the girls and where Tom Dooley more than once went astray.
    It is good to know that there are still museums, folk schools and festivals that keep the old ways demonstrated and sometimes taught.

  • Reply
    Julie Moreno
    October 10, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    One of my favorite comfort foods: soft butter mixed with molasses on hot biscuits!!! My great nephew at 3 yo would ask me for his “molastics” and biscuit.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    I grew up in a family which made a living growing sorghum cane and making sorghum syrup. I remember the long rows to hoe, (barely able to tell the small plants from grass), the harvesting of the stalks, the grinding at the mill with the horse going around and around, and the juice cooking over a rock furnace fueled with slabs. But the most fun for me and my cousin, was playing on the pummie pile along with wasps and bees. (Pummies were the flattened stalks piled up after being run through the mill.) Our farm was at the foothills of the Ozarks and it’s interesting to read how much your area and ours are alike. Thanks for the memories!

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    October 10, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    We had it with biscuits when I was growing up. My grandmother and I made popcorn balls with it. Wish I had one now.

  • Reply
    Joe Penland
    October 10, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    My breakfast yesterday. Bowl of grits with two eggs over light and two tablespoons of sorghum all stirred together. My goodness it was GOOD!!!!!!

  • Reply
    wanda Devers
    October 10, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    I also remember. In a field near our house they had the grinder set up with the mule going around and around to turn it. I don’t remember seeing it cooked off –it may have been done somewhere else.
    Daddy also mixed his syrup or jelly with soft butter to eat on hot biscuits. So good and I like it on cornbread too.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    I don’t have much memory about Sorghum, but I do remember Mama making Puff. (At least that’s what we called it.) Daddy would bring home a quart jar of Sorghum, I’m not sure where he got it, probably from Hub Holloway. He and his wife Lorie had a store just above the Topton Post Office. While Lorie cut my hair (for .50 cents), I could look on the counters and see Sorghum and Mountain Honey. He had a bunch of Honeybees out back of his basement. He kept them real close to the back door, in case the Law started sneaking around, cause he made Liquor too. The way Daddy and Mama taught us 6 boys, and the way we all grew-up in Church, made us just respect others and not question their ways. …Ken

  • Reply
    October 10, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Good morning!
    This is my first day back to work, we had a long weekend ๐Ÿ™‚
    I was fortunate to go to the WNC Garlic Festival over the week end and visit with the kind folks at Sow True Seed. What a fun time we had ๐Ÿ™‚ Lots of samples and goodies to buy, just had to bring some home!
    As a gardener at large for you I have a short update. I planted Jericho and Parris Island romaine. I am reusing straw bales that my squash used earlier this year. They have all started to sprout and are still in the seedling stage ๐Ÿ™‚ This rain has certainly helped them along! Will start thinning, as painful as that is for me to uproot a growing plant!, as soon as they mature a little more.
    Many blessings to all!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 10, 2017 at 10:57 am

    Molasses is made from sugar cane. Sorghum syrup is made from sorghum cane. The plants are different. Sorghum is smaller, sweeter and doesn’t have a grassy taste like molasses. Sorghum is most often used in making silage for cattle. It is chopped up, piled up and allowed to ferment before it is used as feed. Happy cows give more milk I suppose.
    Harrie Parton has an operation set up back in the late ’60s & early’70s over between Lauada and Almond. He had the boiler next the highway and a pipe running up to the top of the mountain where the juice was extracted by a mill run by a tractor. When he boiled off a run, he just had to open a spigot to fill his boiler again. Tourists would stop and watch the operation. They usually left with a quart or two.

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    October 10, 2017 at 10:04 am

    I’m probably one of the few who helped with making syrup. With my granddad Dyer’s operation it was a week to 10 days due to the volume he produced. He made syrup for other farmers on shares. He and my uncle Blueford were acknowledged as some of the best syrup makers in Union County GA. Both are in Union’s Farmers Hall of Fame. Granddad as a young man sold 5 gallon jugs for $2.50, and the jug cost him .50, so a net price of 10 cents a quart, and he drove back roads from Choestoe community to Talking Rock GA to sell it. He lived to see syrup sell for $2.75 A quart, and folks would drive to his mill to buy all he produced. Now it costs $10 or 11.00 a quart, and isn’t as good as his.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    October 10, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Dear Tipper, I have so many rich memories of molasses making. After I married, my husband and I grew cane and made molasses each Fall for many years. After we stopped making, I tried to be sure that I never missed a Fall watching a run of syrup being made. Thankfully, friend and neighbor David Burnette (and wife Diane) have allowed others to take part in their molasses experience each year. When I was growing up I watched molasses being made just across the road from my school. While I sat in science class, my desk was beside the window and provided me with a front row seat. I don’t remember much science but I could tell you all about what I saw out that window. I try to make sure my grandchildren go with me each year so they will also have the memories. It’s getting more and more rare to have an opportunity to experience those sorts of things. I owe the Burnette family, and all the others (like you) that keep our Appalachian culture alive, a debt of gratitude. Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 10, 2017 at 9:16 am

    I went to a sorghum cook-off this past Saturday. The man who grew the cane has made it an annual get-together. He said it was all about community. He had a rough time with it this year because it got blown down, recovered somewhat then got blown down again. So it was all tangled up and hard to get out.
    My Dad always liked to have some sorghum syrup around. But he was particular and didn’t want any scorched, cut with corn syrup or too strong as in ‘blackstrap’. It sure is nice to have in gingerbread.
    I guess we are so far removed now that we do not really understand about the importance of making one’s own sweetening instead of taking for granted one can buy sugar.

  • Reply
    Brenda Schlosser
    October 10, 2017 at 9:15 am

    They are still making sorghum molasses in Oklahoma. Very interesting to watch them make it. When I was a child in Oklahoma, my Granny would always make taffy and have me help her pull it. Great memories.
    Miss Cindy, my Grandpa mixed butter and sorghum together and slathered on my Granny’s biscuits.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2017 at 9:06 am

    The family down the road used to have a sorghum making party every year. The parents passed away a few years ago and sadly the boys didn’t carry on the tradition. I grew up thinking sorghum and molasses was the same thing until a recipe plainly stated not to use molasses as a substitute for sorghum. It is hard to find in my area. I finally found an 8 ounce jar at a country store where they sell local goodies. The small jar cost $8.95!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    October 10, 2017 at 8:03 am

    I love Sorghum! Especially with fresh, hot biscuits. However, store-bought molasses is awful. I tell friends not to form an opinion of molasses based on the store stuff, but to find some real, homemade Southern Sorghum.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 10, 2017 at 7:51 am

    Sounds like a fun time and you get some of the best syrup around

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 10, 2017 at 7:07 am

    My family moved to Texas when I was very young and every summer we came back to the Mountains of WNC to visit family. As we drove we passed big cane fields and there was always folks set up at those fields boiling the cane making sorghum. My dad loved sorghum, he grew up eating it, it was cheaper and more available than sugar.
    After supper, my dad and grandparents always put a slice of raw butter in their plate and poured molasses on it, mashed the two together with a fork and ate it on biscuits or cornbread.
    I didn’t really grow up with it and never acquired the taste for molasses on bread. In my dad’s family it wasn’t desert, it was a tradition!

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