Relic Home and Blacksmith Shop

Friday, July 11, 2014

MILLING SUGAR CANE

Photo Courtesy of Monticello Live
Monticello Arkansas




THE OLD MOLASSES MILL
By Calvin Christensen, 1934

Sweets and other necessities in early days could not be  purchased in Mt. Pleasant, 

therefore they had to be produced.
A molasses mill was imported by Abraham Day in 1863. This mill was first operated on the Day lot. Later it was moved to what was known as the old Peel lot, southwest corner, Fourth West and

Third South. Later Niels Widergren Anderson imported a later,
up-to-date model which was placed in the old Tannery lot, Sixth South and Third West. For some time it was run by Weaver Niels Johansen and Andrew Christensen, who later purchased it.
In 1878 a mill was bought by Jacob Christensen, and was located at Sixth South and First West.
In 1914, Peter Y. Jensen, Joseph Christensen, my brother, and I raised some sorghum cane and the old mill was set up on our farm south of Mt. Pleasant, and we produced some 200 gallons of fine molasses.
The changes in the seasons, and the early frosts finally closed the molasses mill. The cookers on the mill were Weaver Niels Johansen, John Knudsen, John Romero, Ed Dalley, Rasmus Ras­mussen, Teacher Niels Johansen, Andrew Christensen Sr., Andrew Christensen Jr., and Niels Trogoon Syndergaard. The last years the mill was operated the cookers were Teacher Niels Johansen and Nephi Christensen, and possibly others.
The juice was pressed out of the cane between the rollers and was taken to the boilers. The new juice was a sea green color. The boilers were about three feet by fourteen feet and about a foot deep, and divided into four sections. They had a sheet metal bottom. A good fire was kept under the boilers. The hottest fire was under the larger or first boiler. Here the juice was cooked down. It was then transferred to the next boiler, where it received more cooking.
When the molasses was cooked, it would drop from the ladle in white drops. The mill owner would receive one-third for his work. The community would raise about 1000 gallons or more each year. The price was then $1.00 a gallon.
Sorghum cane grows like corn, in bunches of two to six stalks When ripe, the leaves are knocked off with sticks. Then the top cut off with a knife, and the stalks cut and hauled to the mill Here it is piled like cord wood.
Most families had their own cane patch. The cane raised in town, where it was watered every week, had lots of juice, but required more cooking and did not make as good molasses as the cane raised on the East Bench, along Twin Creek, where it did not get watered very often.

The cane is sweet, and when the boys and girl came to the mill they would take the cane and twist a joint and suck out the sweet juice. Others would peel the outside skin off and chew the pulp. The cane, after it had gone through the press, was called pumy. Cattle liked the pumy and were a nuisance, as they hung around so much. In the winter they would be there as long as there was any pumy left.
The juice was skimmed over and over. The skimmings from the first two boilers was poured out on one side of the boiler. The boys would make a small trench and run this skimmings into a pit. When the pit was full they would cover the top with pumy. Then they would get some new boy or girl and lead them around the pit till they went in. The pit was then carefully covered again for the next victim.
The skimmings from the last boiler was used for candy mak­ing. Scores of boys and girls would be there every night and build a fire to cook skimmings on. Some of the boys would feed the mill for hours to get skimmings. Others would bring a little corn for the horse or do some other favor. Many a rick of tanning bark was used to make candy.
The boys would lie on the ground around the boilers till the cooker could hardly feed the fire. Often the boys would stay all night. When they were sleepy they would burrow into the pumy pile, which was a warm place in which to sleep.
When John Jorgensen was about twelve years old, he let his hand follow the cane into the mill. He screamed for help. My great grandfather stopped the horse and turned the mill back­wards till young Jorgensen could get his hand out. Jorgensen lost three fingers and part of the fourth finger.
When Niels Christensen was a boy feeding the press, he put too much cane in and the horse kept on going and pulled the press off the posts. Niels jumped just in time. The mill fell on his heels. The press weighs over nine hundred pounds.
Grandfather Christensen told me on cold morning he put a
pan under the spout of the barrel and went to do his chores while the pan was filling. After the chores were done he hitched his horses and went to Fairview. He then remembered his molasses barrel, and went with all speed possible. Imagine his amazement when he found the pan was just filled up, and none wasted.


......taken from Mt. Pleasant History by Hilda Madsen Longsdorf  pp 297-300

See the following link for more information on milling sugar cane. 

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