“Sweet” memories bring brothers back to cook room

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    Lowell Black watches the sorghum juice as it boils down to a sweet syrup at Saturday's Sorghum Festival.
    Lowell Black watches the sorghum juice as it boils down to a sweet syrup at Saturday’s Sorghum Festival.

    MOUNT IDA – The smell of sorghum cooking as the warm steam wafting off the cooker fills the air brought a pair of brothers together last week as they made sorghum molasses at the Heritage House Museum.
    Hodge and Lowell Black grew up near Norman helping their father grow sorghum and make molasses from the cane. Time carried the brothers to different parts of the world with Hodge spending several years in California and Lowell settling in Wisconsin. The lure of small town life brought Hodge back to Montgomery County and his love for sorghum led him to cook the sweet confection once again. He first cooked sorghum for the Methodist Church in Mount Ida, but the equipment and event made it’s way to the Heritage House Museum.
    Hodge was happy to have his brother in town to help with the sorghum last weekend and when asked about the process he turned it over to Lowell.
    Lowell explained that the way they do it now is very similar to the way it used to be done. When they were children the tray used to cook the sorghum juice was filled with baffles. Lowell explained that you could seperate sections of the pan to allow for multiple batches of syrup to be processed at the same time. He stated that as the molassess cooked down you would move down the pan to another section. By the time you got it to the end it was done.

    Hodge Black talks to a pair of visitors at last year's sorghum festival.
    Hodge Black talks to a pair of visitors at last year’s sorghum festival.

    Now they just do one batch at a time. The pan looks very similar, but now they only use one section with the other sections filled with water to regulate the temperature of the pan.
    They heat is somewhat different as well. In the past the pans were heated with wood heat, but the new set up at the Heritage House Museum uses propane.
    The process seems simple, but can be quite tricky. The object is to boil the juice until most of the water has evaporated, leaving the sweet syrup that is desired.
    Hodge explained that the temperature of the juice determines the sugar content. The hotter it gets and the more water you evaporate the higher the sugar content.
    The pair had to constantly monitor the juice as it cooked. Hodge studied to find the right temperature while Lowell skimmed off the dross that would rise to the top while cooking.
    Lowell stated that you had to boil 12-13 gallons to get one gallon of syrup. Hodge stated that they expected to get 12 to 13 gallons of syrup from the batch they cooked Saturday.
    The juice is harvested by crushing the cane in a mill. The crew that worked the cane did so Friday to avoid the rain Saturday. Hodge explained that although they have a mule driven mill on display, most of the cane is stripped with an engine powered mill. He explained that in times past they would hook a lawnmower up to the manual mill because it was faster than the mule.
    Jars of the sorghum molasses are available at the Heritage House Museum in Mount Ida. The museum is located at the intersection of Luzerne Street and Highway 27 South.

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