Sorghum in My Blood


| November/December 1992



# Picture 01

7500 Pinemont #311 Houston, Texas 77040

'The Old Cane Mill!' 'What's become of that old cane mill once responsible for that annual barrel of sorghum molasses? Gone the way of old Dobbin? Let's hope not! Definitely that old mill has a place in the agricultural set up of a community. From cane stalks it excavates juice from a molasses now found scarce and growing in demand. Let's hope the old cane mill rolls on.'

This sign was found in my grandfather's (Thomas L. Bentley) sorghum cooking shed for many years prior to his death, in 1968. In fact, my family produced sorghum near Sorento, Illinois, from the time it was introduced to the United States in 1857 and 1858.

The first sweet sorghum seed (the type of sorghum that produces a sugary juice) was brought to the United States in the early 1850s from France, where they were experimenting with sweet sorghum to produce sugar as an alternative to sugar from sugar cane. Sweet sorghum was first cultivated in Eastern Africa's Sudan and Chad regions soon after Christ's death.

The seed was first distributed in small seed packets through a popular farm magazine of the era. U. S. Congressmen also distributed the seed to their constituents. Distribution initially was in the Midwest states as this area's climate and latitude was similar to France. It was also noted that the characteristics of sorghum were similar to corn, hence the decision for distribution in areas where corn grew well.

As the Civil War developed, Louisiana, the only sugar cane growing area at the time, slowed and stopped shipments of molasses and sugar to the Yankees. This led to a boom in the planting of sorghum in the states of Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and Indiana. Sorghum syrup production peaked around 30 million gallons per year in the late 1870s and 1880s. By that time sorghum was produced in all areas of the continental United States, but the center of the production had moved to the Appalachian Mountains and the central southern states. The production of sweet sorghum has declined since that time. Sorghum syrup production remains primarily an artisan activity today, with many small producers of a few hundred gallons per year, and a few large producers. In 1985, the sorghum farmers and hobbyists formed an organization to disseminate information about sorghum growing and syrup processing. The National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association may be reached at the following address: National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association, Rt. 1, Box 194, Clinton, Tennessee 37716.

christy
10/5/2015 4:51:46 AM

My husband and I recently(Sept 2014) purchased your grandfather's property in Sorento where the sorghum mill was located. In fact, the foundation for the building is still there. We are very interested in building a replica of the building and learning more about him and the sorghum mill. We would love to talk to you. Please contact us via e-mail. We look forward to hearing from you. Yesterday we attended the Ripson Bridge Festival and saw a newspaper article dated 1956. It stated that the mill had been running for 110 years. You can reach us at santiagosrus@aol.com