Sorghum making in Mount Ida
A chance to see how sorghum was traditionally made takes place in October at the Sorghum Festival in Mount Ida. The free festival is held at the Heritage House Museum of Montgomery County. “Sorghum is a fairly sweet syrup that some consider mild,” said Emilie Kinney, executive director of the Heritage House Museum.
A harnessed mule is usually on the museum grounds to operate a small sorghum mill and there are local vendors on site and demonstrations of various vintage equipment. While at the festival, you can also check out the museum, which has an exhibit barn, an 1890s log house and more.
There is a historic connection between Mount Ida and sorghum making. “There was a time when most farms around here grew a stand of sorghum so they could have the syrup for family use,” said Kinney. “It was a nutritious staple used as a topping for biscuits and also as a sugar substitute in baking and cooking. During the winter months sorghum and biscuits were sometimes the meal, whether it was breakfast, dinner (lunch) or supper. Many a resident has mentioned taking sorghum/biscuits to school in their little metal pail for lunch.”
Kinney said that at least one family in each small community had a mill and cooking set up for the sorghum. Nearby families would cut the cane grown on their farm and take it to that mill family where all would pitch in to produce each family’s syrup. The mill/cook stand family was usually paid with some of the syrup made that day with the visiting family’s cane.
“We had one family in Pine Ridge who made sorghum commercially,” said Kinney. “Hatfield’s Famous Sorghum was produced by O.W. and Loretta Hatfield for about 20 years. A fire put an end to their production but they then converted the business to one where they contracted to have sorghum produced elsewhere shipped to them for labeling and distribution. In 1981 they sold the business to their daughter and son-in-law, Annette and Bill Hays. They still are in business with a fairly wide commercial distribution.”
Kinney added that the festival offers the visitor a step back in time. “With the barn and log house serving as the setting for the sorghum squeezing and cooking process, you get a genuine feel for those earlier conditions,” she said. “Most visitors are thrilled to see the mule, harnessed and attached to the mill pole, operating the small cane mill. They always seem to enjoy the various types of old equipment being demonstrated also.” The museum is located at 819 Luzerne St. in Mount Ida. For more details phone 870-867-4422.