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Molasses stir-offs conjure sweet syrup, memories

September 9th, 2015 10:30 am by Lucas Hobbs, community columnist

Molasses stir-offs conjure sweet syrup, memories

Bristol's Lucas Hobbs is a community columnist for the Kingsport Times News.

Fall has been in the air on several recent evenings, and will arrive soon officially.

We all have our favorite fall traditions, many of them tied to food, and now are planning our annual celebrations of those traditions.

When my thoughts turn to fall and food, my first thought is to one of my earliest memories – the enjoyment of a sorghum molasses stir-off along the creek where our farm sits.

When I was a child, at least two of the families who lived a short distance from my grandmother grew sorghum cane each year, which they would cut, squeeze, and cook in a large pan over the course of several evenings each fall. Many of the adults in the neighborhood would sit or stand around the pan all evening, taking turns skimming the green foam from the surface of the molasses.

But just as importantly, they took turns telling stories, comparing crops, and visiting with their fellow farmers. These stir-offs brought together not only the families who grew the cane, but also their neighbors, friends from church and others, all whom gathered together to eat, talk, play and make some of the richest tasting syrups you’ll ever put in your mouth.

While the adults worked, and visited, the children would usually wander off to find a tall stack of discarded cane and run to the top, playing king of the mountain, or use the stacks and whatever else we could find as hiding places for a game of hide-and-go-seek. After we ran off some nervous energy, our parents would call us in toward the fire as the molasses continued to cook.

While we waited for the molasses to come off the fire, we too would enjoy a variety of food, including what is still the best baked potato I’ve ever tasted, plucked from the coals under the heavy pan by the man who was overseeing the stir-off that evening.

After hours and hours of cooking, and skimming, the pan was ready to be lifted off of its cinder block frame, and carried away from the fire.

The pan was tilted and the bulk of the molasses emptied, to be placed into canning jars. This was the time when every kid, and not a few adults, began to round up a scrap piece of cane and a pocket knife to cut the cane on the bias to make a sopping stick, ideal for soaking up as much of the darkened goodness that remained on the bottom of that pan.

We would leave the stir-off each night, newly energized not only by the sweet sugar but also the fellowship with friends, with the knowledge that a morning sunrise would soon be met by homemade biscuits with molasses from one of those jars.

I hope you’ll take the time to search for and visit a molasses stir-off in your community this fall. I know I can’t wait to head up the creek to one soon, and introduce my kids to this family tradition.

Bristol’s Lucas Hobbs is a community columnist for the Kingsport Times News.

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