Published 12:41 pm Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting the Bowmans. For over 30 years Don and Betty Bowman have been making Sorghum Molasses on their farm in Green Bay. I did not know such a product existed until I happened upon a recipe that required it and purchased some from the local grocery four years ago. Before then I thought sorghum was an ingredient in silage that was fed to cows. To say I was excited when the opportunity arose to participate in its making would be an understatement.
I quickly learned that there are a few different kinds of sorghum. The type used to make molasses is referred to as “sweet” sorghum, it grows taller and the stalk contains more juice and sugar than the forage and grain sorghums. Sweet sorghum is a summer crop that does not tolerate cold weather, so it must be harvested before the first fall frost.
The Bowmans grow their sweet sorghum on the farm and the entire process of molasses making takes place there also, from the first stalk that is cut by hand out in the field to the last jar lid screwed on tight by the Bowmans their family and many friends.
I found the experience fascinating. The sorghum was brought from the field on a wagon to a machine with many gears, pulleys, belts and large rollers. It was operated by an antique tractor which I was told only a few years back had replaced a ride on lawn mower, which had replaced the original horse that powered the entire mechanized portion of this particular phase of the project.
The stalks are stripped of their leaves and any other debris before being hand fed to the rollers in this machine where they are crushed and the juice runs into a screened bucket. Then the filtered juice runs through a long pipe that is connected to a bin fitted with another screen that filters it again before it falls into a very large vat.
This very large vat sits on top of a wood burning fire and the sorghum juice cooks to a boil for a very long time. Until most of the water is evaporated and any pathogens in the sorghum juice are processed. When the required temperature and consistency have been met the sorghum (syrup) molasses is filtered one last time and transferred to a sterile bin where it cools and then is bottled in jars.
The day is a long one, it begins before dawn and the work does not end until long after darkness falls in the evening. The area around the vat is thick with smoke from the burning wood that is constantly fed to the fire and the evaporating water from the cane juice adds a slightly sweet caramel scent to the humidity in the air.
To participate in the transformation of sweet sorghum into molasses is a special rare opportunity. It was heartwarming to experience the excitement and eagerness to help the Bowmans once again make Molasses on the farm by the many family members, friends and neighbors who came from near and far. But I suspect that it was not just the molasses that drew them all in, but the love and camaraderie that was shared by all during a day spent working on the farm with Don and Betty. This year they so graciously educated and accepted the help of a stranger (myself) as if I were one of the usual attendees. I was even allowed to stir and skim the vat!
It was a magical day that I soon will not forget.
Dawn Conrad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or fb.me/conrad.gardenmuse.