Reflections on Transition

By Staff
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Earl Henry HC 32 Box 2 Hasty, Arkansas 72640

As people moved from the eastern coastal area into the interior
of the North American continent, they had to adapt and develop
resources to meet their needs and wants. They took with them the
materials and foods that were most familiar in their native
lands.

Wild honey was one source of sweetening the early settlers used;
another, in the south, was sorghum molasses.

Sorghum was the source for many families and communities as a
sweetener. The making of molasses was a community activity that
took skill and know-how. This was a community activity that brought
families together in the autumn.

In the fall of the year in north central Arkansas, the Rusty
Wheels Club of Western Grove, Arkansas cooks off sorghum as a club
activity that brings to today a fall activity of bygone years. The
club recently purchased acreage to set up a permanent site for
their museum and cook-off pan and furnace.

Earl Henry served as president until the fall of 1993. He and
others have worked very hard in setting up the program as it now
exists.

In planning the fall boil-off, the club has planted acreage of
molasses-type cane, planting either the ‘Dab’ variety or a
variety used for many years called ‘Silver Drip,’ an open
pollinated variety with a high yield juice.

In Figure 1 the shed protects the pan and fire. President Earl
Henry at left, and Charles House are feeding the fire under the
evaporation pan.

Figure 2 shows Charles House putting wood into the fire again.
The level and amount of fire is critical to the evaporation process
of making molasses. Too much fire will taint the flavor, and with
too little fire the result is a watery liquid with no flavor.

The evaporating pan used is 17 feet long and 43 inches wide.

Figure 3 is a 1930s model tractor, two cylinder, Model D. This
is used to drive the crusher as shown in the picture.

L. A. Riggins is shown in figure 4. In Figure 5 the crusher and
juice tank are shown. The juice there is drained into the
evaporating pan, where it is cooked down and removed from the far
end.

To those who have never seen or experienced molasses making, you
have not lived until you taste the ‘foam’ as the flavor of
good molasses made by master cooks such as Earl Henry and the Rusty
Wheels Crew. They are the best!

As Tennessee Ernie Ford would say, ‘They are
lip-smackin’ good!’ Next fall, in late September or
October, come to Western Grove and see the ‘cook-off’ and
old engine show.

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