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As a young girl, I was thrilled when my grandpa and grandma, John and Otie Ball Martin, took me to the sorghum stir-off on the farm of Fred Martin, grandpa’s youngest brother. The old horse would plod along lackadaisically in a circle turning the press used to distract the liquid from the cane stalks that had been cut and stripped of all leaves. The liquid was strained through cheese cloth as it fell from the press spout into a bucket. Once the bucket was full it was strained with cheese cloth again and placed into a large oblong metal pan. The liquid was boiled over an open fire until it reached 230 degrees. This process took approximately four to six hours. The foam was removed from the top and placed into separate containers. Cane stalks were distributed to those present and dipped into the delicious syrup for a tasty treat. The sorghum syrup was removed from the fire and slightly cooled before being poured into quart jars. Other McCreary County families held annual stir-offs as well. What we often call molasses is actually sorghum syrup made from sorghum cane instead of sugar cane. The stir-off was a community affair and tall tales, stories, and news was shared among family and friends. The occasional practical joke was not unheard of and those present often enjoyed singing gospel songs while the sorghum was being made.
Sorghum was used for baking cookies or cakes or eaten with biscuits laden with homemade butter. Local cooks have historically striven to create a six-to-eight-layer stack cake for Christmas or New Year dinner. The thin layers are spread with cooked dried apples seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg between each layer. Stack cakes are best when made two or three days prior to being served so the cake layers can absorb some of the cooked dried apples. Holiday traditions and gatherings with family and friends are an important part of our legacy.
On behalf of the McCreary County Heritage Foundation and the impressive group of volunteers and sponsors who support the McCreary County Museum, I wish each of you a happy and prosperous 2023. Working together we are working to showcase and preserve our heritage for future generations, citizens, and visitors to our beautiful county. For additional information email firstname.lastname@example.org