Tennessee Records Repository

Decatur Co. TN

Biddie Rogers

From Lillye Younger, People of Action (Brewer Printing Company, Jackson, Tennessee, n.d.).

This People of Action, issued circa 1969, reproduced newspaper clippings about people in Decatur County. Most items probably were written in the mid 1960s. Most, but not all, of the items were written by Lillye Younger herself and most, but not all, appeared in the Jackson Sun. The photographs, which in the book were poorly reproduced from clippings, have not been scanned.

Special thanks to Constance Collett and the estate of Lillye Younger for permission to make these web pages.

Thanks to www.tnyesterday.com for contributing this transcription.

By LILLYE YOUNGER, Sun Correspondent

Parsons Molasses Maker Tells 18-Year-Old Recipe

PARSONS, Tenn. "You have to know what you are doing to make good sorghum molasses," says Biddie Rogers, who started making molasses at the age of 12 and has continued for consecutive 18 years.

"I learned from the ground up," he says.

The sorghum cane is stripped by knocking the fodder off and cutting the cane with a big sorghum knife. The sorghum head is then cut off and the stacks are hauled to the mill. When they are unloaded they are placed across logs to keep clean.

Biddie says he had a horse-drawn mill, however today tractors are used. The mill is three cast iron rollers on a 3½ foot frame and is used to press the juice from the cane. It weighs about 1,100 pounds. Two rollers roll in one direction and one in the opposite direction.

In the center of the mill is a pole and pulley. In the old method the mule goes around in a circle while the cane is being fed through the rollers. The juice is caught in a trough.

"One time I remember when the mule got drunk and turned the mill over," Rogers said.

The juice is poured in a big barrel and carried to the pans where it is strained, ready to cook. "The yellow jackets were our biggest menace," Biddie recalls. Today screened areas are used.

The furnace is made by digging a hole in the ground and leveling a 10 foot pan on top. A smoke stack is placed at one end and a barrel at the other to feed the juice through. A special type of wood is used and the barrel has a faucet to gauge the speed the juice goes into the pan. The fire is built and the pan is filled with juice. It has 16 compartments shaped like the figure 8. At the back f the pan the juice is kept separate from the front, which is being cooked.

Two men use special built paddles with holes in them to stir the juice and keep the molasses skimmed. It requires about 15 minutes to cook a batch, Biddie says.

It takes an experienced man to know when the batch is done.

"I could stand off 50 feet and hear it pop and tell when it was done," he continued. "It is thoroughly cooked when it strings to the ground, if it is not it will break off."

"There's nothing better than hot molasses poured over buttered biscuit," Biddie says.

"The women would always bring our lunch to the field. We had hot buttered biscuits and that was real eating!"

At night enough syrup was left in the pan to keep it from sticking. The fire was pulled away but it took all night for the pans to cool enough to wash. The next morning Biddie said he had to pack the back end of the pan and use a brick, hot water and rags to scour the six front sections of the pan. It had to be cleaned until it shone like a silver dollar. No soap could be used — it would make the molasses taste of soap.

There are three kinds of cane — ribbing, sugar and White Alfga. It takes a different length of time to cook each type. Molasses is made in the fall before frost.

Making molasses is like driving a car, Biddie says. It is something you never forget.

"I made molasses every year for 14 years."

"I made on an average of 1400 gallons of molasses a year during that time.

"My pay was one gallon out of every four. I made around 40 gallons a day. In 1932 the price was $1 for three gallons; now it's $2.50 per gallon."

"We lived in a big log house with an open hallway and we stored our molasses in the hall. It was pretty full by the end of the season," Rogers said.

"I've seen it stored in lard cans, glass jars and buckets, from which we sold all winter. I can't remember us being without molasses," he added.

One gallon of molasses weighs 10 pounds. The color depends on the length of cooking. The longer it is cooked the darker and thicker it becomes.

"I always liked it thick enough to where you didn't have to hem it up with three biscuits on your plate to eat it," Biddie Rogers said with a chuckle.

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