This Web site is devoted to the preservation
of the art of making
Sweet Sorghum (sometime called Sorghum Molasses)
Ken Christison firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Kinney on the left and Ken Christison on the right. Standing behind
Ken's Sorghum Mill. That's Kens field of Sorghum Cane behind us.
Sorghum is a syrup made from the juice of Sorghum Cane. In years past it was an
important source of sweetener. It came into prominence during the 1850's in the
United States. By 1888 total US production was 20,000,000 gallons. An 1896
encyclopedia listed the main states that produced sorghum were Indiana, Ohio, Illinois,
Kentucky, and Missouri. It was something that many farms grew to some extent.
Many just planted enough for their own use while others grew it as a cash crop. Most
neighborhoods had at least one farmer that had a mill and evaporating pan. The
farmers in the area would bring their cane to them to be squeezed and cooked into
syrup. With the decline of the family farm and the easy access to other sweeteners
most of these operations have ceased to exist and only a few die-hards still produce this
It seems that about every iron foundry produced a cane mill. The designs seem to all be about the same. A Iron frame from which two or three (usually three) rollers were mounted. The smaller mills were usually horse or mule powered while the larger mills were belt driven. Some of the very early mills were made entirely of wood and probably made by the farmer or local blacksmith. Below you will see examples of both animal powered and belt powered mills.
The process of making Sweet Sorghum is as follows:
1. Grow the Sorghum Cane. It looks much like corn without the ears. Instead of tassels on top like corn, it has clusters of many seeds. The seeds are small and round about 1/16" in diameter. It grows 6 to 12 feet tall and 1 to 2 inches in diameter at the base of the stalk.
2. After the cane matures (90 to 120 days) it must be harvested. This is the most labor intensive part of the whole process. Harvesting is done by striping it of its leaves by running a thin bladed stick swiftly down each side of the stalk. Knocking the leaves off as the stick goes buy. Then the "head" of seeds is removed. Next the stalk is cut off close to the ground. All that is left is a stalk 5 to 11 feet tall, 1 to 2 inches in diameter at the end closes to the ground and about a 1/2 inch in diameter at the end closest to where the seeds were.
3. The cane is then taken to the mill. It is hand feed into the mill a few at a time depending on the size of the mill and its power source. The rollers in the mill crush the stalks which squeezes the juice out of the cane. The juice is collected into a container to await cooking.
4. After enough juice is collected to fill the first section of the evaporator pan it is strained to remove pieces of stalk that might have been left in the juice. It is poured into the first compartment of the evaporating pan. A fire is built under the pan using wood or sometimes more modernly gas. The pan is divided into compartments so that several "batches" can be cooked at one time facilitating a continuous cooking process. The juice must boil. While the first batch is cooking, more cane is being squeezed and juice collected. When enough for another batch is collected the first batch is moved into the second compartment and the second batch is poured into the first compartment. The process is repeated eventually filling all compartments in the pan. When the juice reaches the last compartment it must be watched carefully so that it is removed at just the right time. This is the part that takes practice and know-how. Remove it to soon and it will not be done. Wait to long and it will be thick and have a strong taste. The whole time that the juice is cooking, until the last compartment or two, it must be skimmed. This involves running a skimmer across the top of the cooking juice to remove the skim that forms on top which is the impurities cooking out of the juice.
There is another method of cooking the syrup that is called a batch method. It is made basically like the above paragraph describes except the pan is not divided into compartments. It is just one large pan about 3-4 feet wide, 8-10 feet long and about 12 inches deep. Here the juice is cooked as one large batch.
5. Eat the finished product. Fans have their favorite uses. Mine is over hot biscuits with butter on them or in cookies.
These steps may be preformed in slightly different orders but generally this is how it is done.
The following mills are owned and restored by
Ken Christison of Conway North Carolina.
Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.
|7 Horse Power Alamo hit and miss engine belted to a
#45 Chattanooga Cane Mill. The #45 is rated at 120-150
gallons of juice per hour requiring a 4-6 horse power engine.
This is a close up of the #45 Chattanooga Cane Mill.
|This is a #12 Chattanooga #12 Improved Cane Mill.
It is designed to be powered by a horse or mule which is
hitched to the pole. It then walks in circles turning the mill.
The #12 is rated at 35-50 gallons of juice per hour.
|This is a close-up of the #12 Improved Chattanooga Cane Mill.
|View from the engine looking back toward the mill.|
|This is some of Ken's cane ready to be feed into the mill.|
|Ken picking up a loose cane from around his mill.|
|Ken feeding cane into his mill.|
|My daughter Elizabeth Kinney removing the bagasse (crushed
cane) from around the discharge shoot of the mill.
|Ken pouring the juice into his batch cooking pan.
Notice the very un-appetizing green color of the juice.
He is pouring it through a screen to strain out any pieces
of crushed cane. He also strains it through a cloth as it
enters the bucket coming out of the mill.
Chattanooga Plow Company
The Chattanooga Plow Co. was established in 1878, and the earliest reference to a cane mill is in a 1886 catalog which shows the 'old red mill'. This is a three roll vertical horse powered mill which was continued in the line with several improvements over the years. The number 12 'improved' on this page was patented Nov. 25,1890. The models #45 and #72 were probably the most popular of the belt driven power mills. There were several variations of these two styles with the differences being in size of gearing and rolls. These mills greatly increased the production possible by the small farmer or local entrepreneur. The #76 had a large 24" X 18" large roll and weighed 8000 lbs. It required 20 horsepower and produced 3000 to 4000 gallons of juice per day.
Chattanooga also made evaporators, portable furnaces and other accessories used in the production of syrup. A catalog of 1913 claimed that "We make more Cane Mills than any Factory in the World."
The International Harvester Company purchased the Chattanooga Plow Company in 1919. In addition to the cane mills and accessories they were probably best known for their chilled plows. They were the only chilled plow factory in the south.
The following mill is owned and restored by
The mill pictured below was manufactured by the C. Kratz Foundry of Evansville, Indiana between 1865 and 1870. It was operated in the Evansville area and when found was laying in a woods where it had been for many years. In the early 1980's with the help of my dad, Grandpa's and a couple of elderly friends we set about the task of making Sweet Sorghum. We planted about a half acre of cane and used this mill to squeeze the juice from it. We looked around and found a evaporating pan that we were able to acquire. The pan is 4 feet wide and 12 feet long divided into 10 compartments. We set the mill in the middle of the pasture and built a block foundation to hold the pan. With the help of the "old timers" we preceded to make Sweet Sorghum. The first year we made 15 or 20 gallons. The next couple of years we made about 40 gallons. We did this for about 4 or 5 years but then ran into trouble. During this time all our help died off. Growing the cane and making the Molasses is a very labor intensive process. We haven't made any Molasses since about 1985 or 86 but plan to sometime in the future. I feel good to have acquired the knowledge to make Sweet Sorghum and help preserve this dying art.
Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.
|C. Kratz Foundry, Evansville Indiana, 1865-1870. This picture shows the restored mill while on display at the Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences. They had an exhibit set up called "Plowing Ahead" in the fall of 1997. The exhibit focused on Evansville's contribution to the development of agricultural equipment.||Here is a picture of the bagasse (crushed cane) coming out of the mill.|
|This is a close up view of the mill where the juice comes
out. Originally a long downward sloping pole would
have been placed in the rectangular casting located on top of the mill. It would have been hitched to a horse or
mule which would then walk in circles providing the power to operate this mill.
|Juice coming out of the spout into the bucket. It would normally be coming out faster than this is showing.|
|This is a picture of the C. Kratz mill before restoration. It had sat out in a woods for many many years. It was built between 1865 and 1870 in Evansville, Indiana.||The bucket is full ready to be dumped into the pan.|
|Here is a overall view of our how we pressed cane for the first few years.||Our pony liked eating the Bagasse (crushed cane.)|
|This is a closer view of our operation.||Our pan is over 13 feet long and 4 feet wide. It is divided into 10 sections. The section closest to the front of the picture is hinged to dump the finished product at just the right time. This pan is made of Galvanized Tin. Really good pans were made of Copper.|
|Not having a horse of mule we used this John Deere H or our Ford 600 to power our mill. It was a dizzy job being the "Jack Ass".||The first year we made molasses we just used the finishing pan to cook in. Here we are using a skimmer to skim off the slim that forms on top of the cooking juice. We are using wood for fuel.|
|This show the cane being feed into the mill. That's me (Keith)
bringing the cane to "Pop", my Grandpa Kinney. He feed the
can into the mill. My Grandpa McCutchan is on the backside
removing a pile of crusher cane. That's Dad (Curtis Kinney)
driving the tractor.
|This is my Grandpa tasting the final product.|
The Blymyer Iron Works
1892, 33RD Annual Edition
I found this original catalogue at a swap meet.
Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.
|Front cover of the 1892 Blymyer Iron Works
Sorghum and Sugar Cane Mill Catalog.
|Horizontal Victor with all the accessories.
In feed table and out feed Bagasse Carrier.
|The Victor Cane Mill as built by the
Blymyer Iron Work Co.
|Niles Mill for sugar cane. Look at the size
compared to the two men standing to the
right of the mill.
|The Victor Mill with a Lower Sweep.
This would be great for getting the animals
out of the way.
|Here is a small Portable Evaporator called
|The Victor No. 6 Mill. Capacity, 170
gallons of juice per hour. 35 to 40 acres
of cane per season. Weight, 1850 lbs.
|Stationary Cook Evaporator.|
|The Great Western Cane Mill.||Cook Evaporator "Automatic"|
|The Great Western Horizontal Cane Mill
for Horse Power.
|Cook Evaporator "Automatic" Steam Heated.|
|Horizontal Victor Cane Mill.
For Steam or Water Power.
Other Mills from around the country
Horse or mule powered mill manufactured by:
Belknap Howe & Mfg. Co.
No.1 New Blue Grass, 1916 Model
Located in Knawbone, Indiana
Another mill located in Knawbone, Indiana.
This is a belt powered horizontal mill
manufactured by the F. Holtz Co. in
Evansville, Indiana. It was restored by
Edgar Kuhlenschmidt and is now located
at the Indiana State Fair in the Antique
Mill made by the Murphy Mfg. Co.
in Nashville, TN.
This mills manufacture is unknown.
Some have suggested it might be a John Deere Mill.
It is located in Southern Indiana under
a tree. I have tried to purchase this mill
but the owner doesn't want to sell.
We purchased this mill in November, 1999.
It is a "Golden New Model" #27. It is a
fairly small mill with 3 rollers. It weighs 1650 lbs.
It should make squeezing of cane to go much
quicker. It came from Northeastern Texas after
a fellow Sweet Sorghum Internet List member
alerted the list of its location.
Owned by Keith and Curtis Kinney
This horse powered mill was manufactured
by the Southern Plow Co.
in Columbus, GA
It is a "No. 0 Mill" According to its
|Sorghum Pan and Mill
Indiana State Fair
|Sorghum Mill and Pan
White River Valley Show
|Kinney Family Sorghum Cooking
November 3, 2002
This was the first time we had made any sorghum for about 20 years. It was the first time we had
Here are some other Web sites that have Sweet Sorghum information:
National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association
Southern Matters - Sugar Cane Bulletins
Ken has additional mills located on
the net at:
Sweet Sorghum Mailing List
Several Sweet Sorghum enthusiast from around the world have established the Sweet Sorghum mailing list. This is a very good way to learn about, and exchange information about Sweet Sorghum. To subscribe, to the Syrupmakers mailing list go to:
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