Rusty Wheels Make Zip


| October 2001



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Skimming the froth from the molasses

In the days of the self-sufficient farm, 'sweetnin'' usually didn't come from store-bought sugar. You had to rely on honey, maple sugar or sorghum molasses. Honeybees and bee trees were only for the dedicated few willing to mess with the sharp-tailed little critters. Maple sugar came only from places with lots of maple trees. That left, for most of us, molasses.

'Lasses. Zip. Long sweetnin'. In the Ozark mountains, molasses had many names and it always was referred to in the plural -as in 'making 'em' - despite the combined efforts of many a conscientious school teacher. I guess anything with that many sees in its name just had to be plural.

If you buy molasses at the supermarket, look for the word 'sorghum' on the label. Otherwise, you are getting 'blackstrap' molasses, also called New Orleans molasses, which is a by-product of refining cane sugar. Good for cooking but awful disappointing on a biscuit.

'Pure sorghum molasses' is expensive and if you ever make a batch, you'll know why. Sometimes you find some that has been cut or 'stretched' with corn syrup, and that is less expensive.

Before World War II, almost every Ozark community had a few families who made molasses. I say families because it took a lot of people to make a batch, and it was an awful lot of hard work.

Today, Rusty Wheels of North Arkansas, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is 'to preserve the sights, the sounds, the tools, the tractors, the machines, engines, cars, trains, crafts and antiques of yesteryear,' occasionally still makes molasses the old-time way. It's a team effort - a bunch of old boys going down a cane row, loading bundles or feeding cane stalks into the mill, cooking up the syrup and bottling it. More often, you'd find them overhauling an old engine or showing off their antique tools.