This Web site is devoted to the preservation of the art of making
Sweet Sorghum
(sometime called Sorghum Molasses)


co-developed by:
Ken Christison
 s7f7s3gt@coastalnet.com
and
Keith Kinney 

KeithandKen.jpg (13673 bytes)
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.

    Sweet 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 delicious syrup.
   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. 

Keith

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.
KenEngineandMill.jpg (19902 bytes) View from the engine looking back toward the mill.
KensCane.jpg (24028 bytes) This is some of Ken's cane ready to be feed into the mill.
KenFeeding Cane2.jpg (19541 bytes) Ken picking up a loose cane from around his mill.
KenFeeding Cane.jpg (12851 bytes) Ken feeding cane into his mill.
ElizabethRaking.jpg (13744 bytes) My daughter Elizabeth Kinney removing the bagasse (crushed
cane) from around the discharge shoot of the mill.
KenPouringJuice.jpg (11941 bytes) 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
Kinney Family


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.

kratzinputside.jpg (18136 bytes) 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. caneout.jpg (15941 bytes) Here is a picture of the bagasse (crushed cane) coming out of the mill.
kratzspout.jpg (17002 bytes) 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.
juicerunning.jpg (17986 bytes) Juice coming out of the spout into the bucket.  It would normally be coming out faster than this is showing.
KratzMillUnrestored.jpg (13937 bytes) 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. fullbucket.jpg (19111 bytes) The bucket is full ready to be dumped into the pan.
overall2.jpg (10583 bytes) Here is a overall view of our how we pressed cane for the first few years. Pony.jpg (20936 bytes) Our pony liked eating the Bagasse (crushed cane.)
overall.jpg (24973 bytes) This is a closer view of our operation. FullPan.jpg (13663 bytes) 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.
DadonH.jpg (18295 bytes) 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". Skimming.jpg (11052 bytes) 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.
feedingcane.jpg (23357 bytes) 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.
GrandpaTasteing.jpg (19065 bytes) This is my Grandpa tasting the final product.

The Blymyer Iron Works
Cincinnati, Ohio
1892, 33RD Annual Edition
I found this original catalogue at a swap meet.

Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.

BlymyerCatalogCover.jpg (33877 bytes) Front cover of the 1892 Blymyer Iron Works
Sorghum and Sugar Cane Mill Catalog.
HorizontalBeltBagasseCarrier.jpg (19447 bytes) Horizontal Victor with all the accessories.
In feed table and out feed Bagasse Carrier.
Victor.jpg (22692 bytes) The Victor Cane Mill as built by the
Blymyer Iron Work Co.
NilesSugarCaneMill.jpg (23332 bytes) Niles Mill for sugar cane.  Look at the size
compared to the two men standing to the
right of the mill.
Victorlowersweep.jpg (20861 bytes) The Victor Mill with a Lower Sweep.
This would be great for getting the animals
out of the way.
CookEvaporator.jpg (20952 bytes) Here is a small Portable Evaporator called
the Cook.
Victor#6.jpg (21857 bytes) The Victor No. 6 Mill.  Capacity, 170
gallons of juice per hour.  35 to 40 acres
of cane per season.  Weight, 1850 lbs.
Price, $160.00.
CookEvaporatorStationary.jpg (19897 bytes) Stationary Cook Evaporator.
BlymyerGreatWestern.jpg (19734 bytes) The Great Western Cane Mill. CookEvaporatorAutomatic.jpg (18598 bytes) Cook Evaporator "Automatic"
Horizontal.jpg (14349 bytes) The Great Western Horizontal Cane Mill
for Horse Power.
CookEvaporatorAutomaticSteam.jpg (21809 bytes) Cook Evaporator "Automatic" Steam Heated.
HorizontalBelt.jpg (22012 bytes) Horizontal Victor Cane Mill.
For Steam or Water Power.
   

Other Mills from around the country

GnawBone1.jpg (15296 bytes) GnawBone2.jpg (18406 bytes)
Horse or mule powered mill manufactured by:
Belknap Howe & Mfg. Co.
Louisville, KY
No.1 New Blue Grass, 1916 Model
Located in Knawbone, Indiana
GnawBone4.jpg (14743 bytes) GnawBone3.jpg (10954 bytes) GnawBone5.jpg (14004 bytes)
Another mill located in Knawbone, Indiana.
Kuhlenschmidt2.jpg (14652 bytes) Kuhlenschmidt3.jpg (19727 bytes) Kuhlenschmidt5.jpg (16522 bytes)
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
Farm exhibit.
Murphy.jpg (5645 bytes)
Mill made by the Murphy Mfg. Co.
in Nashville, TN.
YellowBanksMill1.jpg (18144 bytes) YellowBanksMill2.jpg (10747 bytes) YellowBanksMill3.jpg (13191 bytes) YellowBanksMill4.jpg (15147 bytes)
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.
Golden Mill 1.jpg (22202 bytes) Golden Mill 2.jpg (22772 bytes) Golden Mill 3.jpg (23942 bytes) Golden Mill 4.jpg (23942 bytes)
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.

To see how we cast the oiler lids for this mill click here.

Owned by Keith and Curtis Kinney
of Evansville, Indiana

MVC-014F.jpg (18691 bytes) MVC-015F.jpg (19901 bytes) MVC-018F.jpg (16122 bytes) MVC-019F.jpg (18563 bytes)
This horse powered mill was manufactured
by the Southern Plow Co.
in Columbus, GA

It is a "No. 0 Mill" According to its
name plate.

Sorghum Pan and Mill
Indiana State Fair
August 2002

 

Sorghum Mill and Pan
White River Valley Show
Elnora, Indiana
September 2002

 

Kinney Family Sorghum Cooking
Evansville, Indiana
November 3, 2002

This was the first time we had made any sorghum for about 20 years.  It was the first time we had
used the Goldens #27 mill.  We ran the mill with our 12 H.P. Hercules hit and miss engine which
pulled the mill real nicely.  Because of the dry summer and having planted the cane to
close together, we didn't have much of a crop.  It did however have a very nice taste. 

 

Here are some other Web sites that have Sweet Sorghum information:

National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association

http://www.bigriver.net/lach-host/index.html

http://www.echs.elliott.k12.ky.us/curt_davis/cane_mill.htm

Southern Matters - Sugar Cane Bulletins

Ken has additional mills located on the net at:
http://www2.coastalnet.com/~s7f7s3gt/kensmills.html

 

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:

http://syrupmakers.net/mailman/listinfo/syrupmakers_syrupmakers.net


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