Drought Doesn’t Put Hold On Molasses

With the drought that seemed to go on forever this past summer, questions are still being asked concerning the current and upcoming harvest of crops. What the results will be for soybeans and cotton is still way to early to tell. The rainfall arrived just in time for both crops to be in good condition and near normal yields. Almost 70 percent of the state’s corn crop has been or is in the process of being harvested, with yields running from 25 bushels to 86 bushels on many non-irrigated fields. However, on some irrigated fields, the bushel numbers are over 200 per acre, which means the extra heat did little to stop the production when water was present.

Another concern of mine with the drought affecting crops, has been what has it done to the cane sorghum that is used to make my molasses for my biscuits this year? Fresh molasses on hot biscuits is a fall tradition at my house and I would have to call a national emergency if the supply was not there to meet the need this year. But, after a quick call to Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill in Overton County, I found the rains arrived in the nick of time to save this year’s crop. Sorghum is being squeezed, cooked-off and bottled as I write. Hopefully, the same thing is happening statewide.

Somewhat like me in the enjoyment of sorghum, the late Jerry Clower was a real molasses connoisseur. One of my favorite stories he told was about his Uncle Versie’s boys and how they loved biscuits and molasses. They liked molasses so much they would sop their plates real hard to get every last drop. The results would be for their plates to fly off the table and break on the floor. With the family being on the lower end of the poverty chain, they could not afford to buy plates all the time, so Uncle Versie nailed molasses bucket lids to the table for the boys to eat on. Jerry’s punch line was the boys enjoyed their molasses so much they would sop and sop those lids until finally they sopped the heads off the nails and the metal lids would fly right off the table.

I have to admit I am a sorghum (as some non-molasses authorities call it) authority. I do like to pour a goodly amount of molasses on a plate and put a goodly amount of butter in the sweet sop. Using the tip end of a table knife, I whip the butter up into the molasses where the two combined ingredients create a beautiful golden spread that only a true child of the south can appreciate. Then, after breaking open a homemade buttermilk biscuit and covering it with butter as well, you take the same knife you used to make the golden molasses spread and place abundant amounts of the sweet concoction on the biscuit. After following this process passed down from generation to generation, you are then required to grunt a pleasing sound of satisfaction.

Farm made molasses is such a staple in this state. There is even a festival named in its honor. The annual Music & Molasses Arts & Crafts Festival, which is known as a country celebration of the harvest season, will be held October 20-21, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the grounds of the Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville. It is hosted each year by the Tennessee Agricultural Museum and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. It draws several thousand people to the agricultural museum each year. Molasses making the old fashion way is one of the many special demonstrations that can be enjoyed with cooking and tasting at the sorghum mill located on the grounds. Just as our ancestors did, the grinding wheels of the mill are fed sorghum cane by a farmer as a mule turns the whole operation. You can buy some of the sweet sop to take home and put on your own biscuits.

Bluegrass music, story-tellers, country cloggers, a grist mill, traditional crafts for sale, food including homemade cakes and pies, free buggy rides, log cabin activities for children with a trail hike, pony rides, animals to touch and much more makes this a weekend of family fun. You can tour the Ag Museum, which is something to see just by itself, and visit with many of Tennessee’s craftsmen and artisans.

This fall, make some biscuits, or buy a can if you have to, and enjoy a product that helps make Tennessee what it is. Just be sure to watch for flying plates when the final molasses sopping starts at your house.


– Pettus L. Read may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com. For more information on the Music & Molasses Arts and Crafts Festival, as well as the Tennessee Agricultural Museum go to: tnagmuseum.org.