Molasses making, a sweet tradition in Thornfield

In this photo, published in the Oct. 11, 2006, edition of the Ozark County Times, Leslie Turner, center, stirs molasses toward its final stage as son Doyle Turner (back) stirs the incoming cane juice, and son-in-law Wendell Daugherty strains the finished product into jars. Leslie died in 2013, but his children continue the fall tradition of turning sorghum cane into molasses.

Doyle Turner stands in front of a bumper crop of sorghum that’s growing on the family farm in Thornfield. Turner said the sorghum crop hasn’t done well the past two years, but this year, the cane has flourished, standing 10-12 feet tall.

For more than 40 years, the Turner family has been turning the juice of homegrown sorghum cane into sweet molasses on their farm. To watch them in action, make plans to travel to Thornfield between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, when they crank up the old cane press again and fire up the sorghum cooker.  

Back in the seventies, when long-time molasses maker Johnny Pollard told Leslie Turner and his brother Coy that he was getting too old to continue his Longrun sorghum-cooking business, Leslie’s son Doyle Turner said the two brothers decided they better learn how to do it themselves. They found an old, horse-drawn cane press, rigged up the gears from a truck transmission and hooked that to the PTO of a tractor to make an automated cane press.

The sorghum stalks are fed into the press, and the resulting green juice flows through a strainer into a barrel. Gravity pulls it down a pipe to flow into  the wood-fired cooker, where it cooks until it turns into rich, bronze molasses. When the molasses reaches the perfect point, it’s strained again before the finished product is poured into quart, half-gallon and gallon jars.

The founding brothers are gone now – Coy died in 2011, and Leslie died in 2013 – but the family continues its molasses-making tradition each autumn. “Our sorghum crop hasn’t done very well the past couple of years,” said Doyle Turner, one of Leslie’s sons. “But this year, it sure has. We have sorghum cane that’s between 10 and 12 feet high.”

Doyle and his brothers, Kent and Gaylon, his sisters Jeanie Smith and Linda Daugherty and her husband Wendell, along with other family members and friends, will be feeding cane into the press and stoking the fire under the old-fashioned cooker on Oct. 7.  At times, Doyle’s brother Wade has provided an antique John Deere tractor to run the press.  The public is invited to the farm to watch the process and maybe even get a sweet sample of the finished product.  

To get to the Turner farm from Gainesville, take Highway 5 north to Wasola, turn left onto Highway 95 at the old Y store and continue past Thornfield 2 miles. Turn right on D highway, turn left on County Road 915, then watch for signs.  For more information, call Doyle at 417-372-0568.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423