You really had to work to keep them molasses

Posted by | August 16, 2017

“[My grandparents] had a molasses mill; they made molasses. I used to help make them, too. [They made molasses to sell.] And they made for people. They’d make molasses for six weeks or longer at a time, every day except Sunday. Sometimes they didn’t make them on Saturday. It was usually five days a week.

“They’d start grinding the cane in the mornings about four o’clock, and it’d usually be ten or eleven before they’d get the last ones cooked and off of the pan, before they quit. [My grandmother] was in charge of the cooking of the molasses, and she was really good at it. She stayed right there from the time they got juice on that pan and started cooking till it was all off at night. She didn’t even go to the house to eat her meals. They’d bring her meals to her.

sorghum molassess millPhoto caption reads: Boiling juice of sugarcane into sorghum molasses. Racine, West Virginia. Sept 1938.

“They cooked them with wood. It was a big long pan, and you let the juice come on first, and you’d keep the fire going. It had to be a certain kind of wood, oak wood. And you’d keep the fire going under that pan to get the juice started, and you’d have to skim the skimmings off because it would be real green and foamy skimming. And you had what looked like a wire pan, and you’d take that and go down in under them skimmings and dip them off, and you had cans and buckets that you’d put those skimmings in. They weren’t any good; they’d just throw them away.

“And as the molasses would cook, they’d have divisions in that pan, and over here would be when the juice would start coming in. And then after they started thickening a little bit, it had a place that would close up, and they’d open that up and let that juice, as it started to thicken, come over in the next section. And it would cook so long in that section. And then at the last they would let them go over in the third section to finish cooking. And you had to stay with them all the time and keep stirring them to keep them from sticking, after they started thickening.

“You really had to work to keep them molasses. And they tried to keep that temperature about the same temperature all the time, to make good… They would make them for people and take so many gallons for making them. That was the pay they got out of it. They’d get twenty-five cents a gallon for them when sold them, and now they’re twelve dollars a gallon.”

Eunice Austin
b. 1915, Catawba County, NC

Interview H-107
Southern Oral History Program Collection


related posts: “Maple syrup time”

Eunice Austin
Catawba County NC
sorghum molasses
appalachian culture
appalachia history
history of appalachia

4 Responses

  • tipper says:

    Wonderful details! You should hear Pap’s story of the time the cat got into the molassses-lets just say it wasn’t a pretty sight.

    I wish I had the land to grow cane-I’d make Pap teach me the way they did it when he was a child. He said it was one of his favorite times of the year.

  • Gene Bowker says:

    Love the podcasts!

    Was Molasses something that was only done in the fall, or was it a year round process?

  • Admin says:

    Glad to hear the podcasts are catching your ears. :-)

    Molasses was & is definitely a fall thing; as is hog butchering.

  • […] to molasses as a plural when speaking of them. But in this oral history from 1915 titled “You Really Had to Work to Keep Them Molasses,” we see a treatment of the word that does use the plural pronoun “them” when […]

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