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Monday, May 2, 2016

Pleasin' squeezin': Sorghum event returns to Halls Mill

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sweet sorghum cane is squeezed for its juice, which is reduced into a syrup-like ingredient. This mule-powered press dates back to the 1800s and was manufactured by Chattanooga Plow Company.
(T-G File Photo by Kent Flanagan) [Order this photo]
One of Bedford County's sweetest annual events will take place on Saturday: the Halls Mill Sorghum Squeeze.

The day-long festival is a demonstration of a piece of cultural history. Sweet sorghum cane grown on Paschal Road in Halls Mill will be squeezed for its juice on a mule-driven press which dates back to the 1800s. The resulting juice is then reduced over a wood fire to a sweet syrup, called sorghum (or sorghum molasses, although "molasses" by itself refers to the product made from sugar cane).

Processing time

Randall Crowell, one of the group calling itself the "Halls Mill Sorghum Bottom Gang" which organizes the event, has about three acres of the sugar drip variety of sweet sorghum cane on his property, which produces "fairly clear, and real sweet" juice when pressed.

"It doesn't take much ground to make a lot of sorghum," said Crowell.

Some was pressed, cooked and bottled last weekend, and some will be cooked on the day of the event Saturday, with the sorghum available for purchase while supplies last.

Music and more

There will also be concessions, cloggers, live music, displays and demonstrations of historic farm equipment, such as a grain binder, a grain thresher, a spinning wheel and a cider press.

"All we want to do is bring back a few old memories, like our grandfathers," said Crowell. He said the event has been taking place for the past 10 years, not counting the first two years when he was still working out the kinks of sorghum production.

Free admission

He said the event is a community effort. There's no admission charge, although catfish and chicken plates will be available for purchase, as will the sorghum itself.

The Mid-State Cloggers will perform at 1 p.m., and Crowell said they are always popular. Various musical artists will perform throughout the day.

Historic crop

Sweet sorghum cane was brought to the U.S. in 1853, according to the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association web site. The federal government hoped it would help reduce reliance on cane sugar imports and slave-dependent sugar plantations.

Farmers in the south and midwest welcomed the new crop. It proved unsuitable for producing crystalline sugar, but the reduced sorghum syrup became a popular sweet topping and ingredient. It's also nutritious, containing iron, calcium and potassium, according to NSSPPA.

In generations past, some doctors actually prescribed it as a nutritional aid. It can be used like molasses, honey, corn syrup or maple syrup over pancakes or biscuits or in recipes ranging from gingerbread to stir-fry.

Kids love it

Crowell said that raising the sorghum is "a year-round deal for me," but that he gets his reward when he sees young children fascinated by the mule-drawn sorghum press.

"It's sort of interesting, especially to the kids," he said.

If you go

Paschal Road is located between Halls Mill Road and Virgil Crowell Road in the northwestern portion of the county. For more information, call Randall Crowell, 294-2154; Clyde Elvis Boyce, 294-5681; or Daphne Motes, 684-6662.