A sweet aroma fills the air as Doug Cantrell starts the sorghum-making process at his Dibrell-area farm. It’s a process he finds himself doing each fall, one he and his family have been part of for as long as he can remember.
It’s a tradition handed down to him from his parents Bill and Bertha Cantrell, who had learned the process from Bertha’s father Venus Glenn. Many family members have worked at different stages of the production, especially siblings Donald, David and Diana.
“I remember when I was in the fifth grade at Dibrell, I had to stay out of school a week to drive the tractor around and around,” said Doug.
The process starts with growing cane, with Doug growing about two acres this year. He approximates getting about 50 gallons of sorghum per acre of cane.
Once the cane has been harvested, it is run through a 1940s power mill to extract the juice. The power mill was purchased by Doug’s father replacing a team of mules originally for the process. The raw sorghum juice pours into one of four cooking pans. With temperatures reaching 230 degrees, the juice is removed from pan to pan within a 45 minute time span.
“The last section is where the sorghum gets done, and Daddy used to say when frog eyes start popping up it was ready to be put in the cooling box,” said Doug.
Today the heating element is propane gas, but the older generations kept the heat going with wood slabs fed into a fire. The last step of the procedure is the decision to make pure sorghum or a brand blended with corn syrup.
“We do more blended than pure,” said Doug. “It seems the pure is strong, and most people like the blended version. It’s great on pancakes, in baked beans, in barbecue sauce, and especially good on biscuits.”
Doug’s Warren County sorghum is mostly sold to friends, family and to folks who have become long-standing customers, many from other states.
A half gallon of pure sorghum sells for $15, with the blended selling for $10. His quart containers sell for $10 for the pure; $5.50 for a pint; and a smaller jug for $3.25. If you have a yearning for the unique taste of sorghum, contact Doug at 934-2576.