Growing up in the bread basket of Appalachia; Kentucky, afforded us the opportunity to eat lots of molasses, as sorghum was grown on both our parent’s and our extended family’s farms.
We all loved to raise a little cane. So when we read that a Texas film maker has shot a documentary on a family down in Mt. Olive Texas that raises sorghum to be turned into molasses, we get real interested.
Kenneth Anderle and his wife Judy grow sorghum on their 114 acre farm down in Mt. Olive Texas. They don’t just raise the crop though. They also convert it into molasses.
Anyone who’s ever had hot cakes with good butter and warm molasses knows this to be one of the great gustatory pleasures.
The film begins with Judy Anderle reflecting back on her childhood as it relates to sorghum. Black and white photos of her youth on the farm accompany her voice over to good effect.
Kenneth Anderle then explains the growing season of the crop explaining that typically the plants are ready around July 4th. Film maker Steenson then pans over a group of farm hands working on the harvest. It’s called stripping and it’s hot, hard work not dissimilar to cutting tobacco.
Mr. Anderle then gives a seminar on genetics and how he successfully crossed two disparate strains to create a new type of plant that has proven to be a good producer.
These efforts took a few years but were well worth the trouble.
Finally the stripped plants are taken to the “press” a big mechanical apparatus that squeezes the bejeezus out of the sorghum, extracting the juices.
The Anderles are uptown as this operation runs off a diesel powered engine. The ones we grew up on were powered by mules. It was a big thrill when we were little to ride in a Ford pick-up to Turkey Creek where an old man had a crude, mule powered molasses production facility.
National Geographic would have had a field day up that holler.
Some very fetching imagery from the lens of Steenson comes as the juice is extracted and cooked down. This is a crucial part of the process in the conversion. It is what makes sorghum juice become molasses.
Our grandmother Nellie Sullivan took the foam that came off the molasses and turned it into a candy she called “tough jack”. It came by its name honestly as it was tough as leather, super sticky and absolutely delicious.
The name of the doc comes into play when Kenneth Anderle explains the different levels of molasses thickness during the cooking process; good, better and best with each having a corresponding viscosity.
We always liked it thin like syrup so it would pour easily. Other family members, like Uncle Tom down on Heifer Creek, preferred it thicker.
To each his own.
The film winds down with a gorgeous tableau of multiple bottles of molasses all sitting in the bed of a pickup truck. It’s enough to make your mouth water.
Keeley Steenson has put together a nice short. We like her fly on the wall doc style as it leaves her subjects as the primary focus of the film.
Too many film makers these days like the sound of their own voice.
This film is a Foodways Texas production.
Executive producer Marvin Bendele.
You can watch it here http://foodwaystexas.com/documentary/film/