This morning while Bean and I did chores, Mom and Papa took a load of pine and some biscuits over to the shed behind Delmas’s store where they cook the molasses. When we were done with chores and water-hauling, Mom came back and got us. They had already ground it – run it through a three-wheeled metal mill to squeeze the juice from the sleek foddered cane – and the green juice was being filtered through a cloth feed bag into the metal box over the fire. Lawrence and JV were wringing the bag out with lovely, knobby hands. I cannot impress upon you the beauty of those old hands dripping with emerald juice, with the blue pine smoke as a backdrop in scent and sight. The sun was shining, and the air was clean and bright with the morning’s light frost.
Thin-split wood was fed to the fire, and it grew up eagerly, heating the box and the liquid in it, until the layer of gray foam on top shuddered and cracked, and it ‘came to bilin’. It was then ten-after-eleven in the morning, an hour after it went over the fire. A great surge of movement came up in the people sitting around, mimicking the movement of the juice. Skimmers – tools that look like perforated metal dustpans on broomsticks – were pulled from where they hung on the wall, and people gathered, one on each side of the box, to skim the green foam from the top of the boiling juice. Everyone laughed and joked, teasing each other about anything, and throwing lidded plastic bottles into the fire to startle the skimmers.
Skimming is long and boring, and a skimmer was quickly pushed into my hands, to my delight. I pulled a folding chair up close to the welcome heat of the fire, and accustomed myself to the feel of the green-painted handle in my hands. It was cheerful, and I had a cup of coffee, half Maude cream and no sugar. Mom changed her rule of only allowing coffee at hog killings to allowing it at molasses cookings as well.
I stayed close to Roger, because he can answer most of my questions. I admire all of them, and I listened when they talked about the molasses, and leaned close to the seething vat when they did, trying to read what they read in the bubbles on the amber surface. Hours after it went on – maybe three? – Roger pointed out the ‘tater hills’ as they rose. Tater hills, he said, are the first sign of them getting ready. I looked closely, and saw how the innocently boiling molasses suddenly pulled up a little into separate hills of bubbles, each about the size of my outstretched hand.
A while later – I don’t recall how long, exactly – the skimmers were pulled away from the box, washed, and hung back in their places on the wall. The green, and the impurities that it held, was gone from the juice, and now the foam rolled golden on caramel-colored syrup, swirled and stirred by the walnut paddle that keeps them from sticking to the bottom. I learned that you will be made fun of if you exclaim again and again over the beauty of them, and the old guys will chuckle with your silliness. After the tater hilling – a good deal after, actually, – the bubbles start to leave little craters when they burst, and all the faces draw a little closer, watching. The judge – Lawrence – got close, feeling the texture through the paddle, letting some drip off to see how it fell.
Suddenly, Lawrence pushed his chair back, and gave the joyous and rousing shout of ‘Alright!’. With that one simple word, a flurry of activity occurred: chairs scraping, and people hustling to get out of the way as the hot box was lifted by its wooden handles and set carefully on the dirt floor. It was propped up on a square of lumber, and a few men dipped the molasses out into an old empty beer keg, filtering them through a cheesecloth. The keg, dripping stickily, was hoisted onto a sawhorse table.
While the men filled the keg, the women placed a piece of plywood over the fire that the box had recently vacated, and rows of quart and pint jars were placed on it to warm, protecting them from bursting when filled with the hot molasses.
Lawrence sat in a chair in front of the keg, and filled the warm jars, passing them off to be lidded.
People – mostly kids – clustered around the box, scooping the dark, sweet molasses with pine paddles carved on the spot. The warm sun had slanted down to a comfortable afternoon height, leaving us bathed in light and smokey stickiness. I was utterly happy and content.

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I think cooking the molasses may be the most fun. There are usually lots of folks hanging around, joking and visiting, and taking turns at the (incredibly boring) job of skimming the foam from the boiling vat of sorghum juice.

It takes about six hours to boil a box. As it gets closer to being done, the tension builds, until one of the oldtimers sits in the special judge chair and watches the surface of the molasses. He’s looking for a specific bubble pattern, and when he announces it done, everybody swings into action.

The molasses is strained again into a beer keg, and bottled in mason jars.

ED has written a wonderful description of the whole process, and has kindly allowed me to use it, so that’ll be my next post.


So, after the cane has been cut, it’s time to start grinding. They use this old mill that used to be mule-powered, but is now run by a little electric motor. The grooves were retooled a couple of years ago, and now the cane wants to stick, which is why there’s somebody there scraping it out of the grooves.

The juice is strained, first through burlap, and then through cotton feed bags into a huge homemade stainless steel pan that sits on top of a cement firebox.

The juice is the most astonishing shade of green—it looks a little like something out of a Dr. Seuss book!

Saturday we did finally get around to planting cane, and it was an absolutely lovely experience. A local man, JV, was in charge of the whole process, and he had the beautiful bottomland field plowed and disked—we were in charge of the hoe work. There were nine of us all together, so it was pretty short work.

We’re battling ducks right now. We had several too many drakes, which was leading to splinter groups and factions, meaning there were ducks everywhere! The (huge) drakes were always fighting, and two drakes rolling around in a garden bed means the end of any plants that may have been growing there. So Sunday DH killed three, and ED and I skinned them, and I ordered sausage casings. Doesn’t duck sausage sound wonderful?

My sister and I are planning a trip down to Tallahassee to see our grandmother who had a stroke a few weeks back, which I’m kind of looking forward to and kind of dreading. Dreading just because there’s so much to do around here! Looking forward to because a road trip with my sister will be fun, and it’ll be good to see my mom and Meemaw.