Making molasses and memories

Pure Nebraska
Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 2:45 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - On a warm fall afternoon, we visited a family who enjoys getting together on an annual basis to harvest a small sorghum patch, and make homemade molasses.

We visited with Michael Kavan to find out more about the process. The family harvests a small patch of sorghum that is geared toward making molasses. They don’t get the molasses from the grain portion of the plant, but from the stalk.

“We then run it through the press after we get it cut and strip off the leaves,” Kavan said. “Once it comes out, we will boil it and make molasses.”

It turns out this is a family affair.

“I have two of my kids here, and my sister and her kids are here. We have several brothers, neighbors and friends who are all helping us,” Kavan said. “Last year we had some trouble getting the seed. This year we are back at it. This sorghum is bred for the moisture content in the stalk, and is geared for making molasses. We use the stalk, and its run through the big press down there. The seed head we use, we will save the seed head for some of it, and the rest we will grind for chicken feed.”

The press that the family uses to make the molasses is fascinating to see in action.

“This is an antique,” Kavan said. “Great grandpa bought this in 1927. It stayed with the farm since then. It’s not the original location. The original location was actually between the creeks. But we moved it up here to have easier access.”

The family says doing this every year is a labor of love.

“We like the molasses we get out of it,” Kavan said. “If I’m going to smoke a pork loin, or make molasses cookies, it’s great. We just keep it as the reason it keeps going. We don’t sell the molasses, at least not as of right now. We give it to the people who are coming to help us. They all seem to use it. My aunts and uncles all get some for Christmas.”

The sorghum field is about a a quarter of an acre in size. The field grows all summer, and is planted in mid-May.

“You kind of aim to get it planted and get it ready for the weekend before the first frost of the year,” Kavan said. We’re told this year’s project turned in to the biggest one yet.