Heritage Museum Blog


View Archived Articles

PIONEER MOLASSES MAKING

Article Published 07/13/2017

One of the food products most valued by our pioneer forefathers was sugar.  However, importing sugar to Utah Territory in the early years of settlement was extremely expensive and often in very short supply.

In response to this shortage, several enterprising early settlers turned their hand to making molasses from sorghum cane as a subsiitute for sugar.  Sorghum cane could be grown rather easily in the semi-arid climate of Utah Territory in the fertile soil along the banks of Kays and Holmes creeks.

To raise the sorghum cane, the ground was prepared in the spring through plowing and harrowing, etc.  After the danger of frost was over, seeds were dropped in rows--a few seeds every foot or so.  Later when the new plants could be seen, the fields were furrowed out with marker sticks and then watered and cultivated during the summer growing months.  The sorghum cane was treated much the same as corn is grown in this area.

As the cane matured, it produced a pod of seeds at the top of the plant stock.  The cane seed pod looked very much like the tassel on a corn stock.  When the cane seed pod turned dark brown and became hard like wheat, the cane was ready to be cut.

Women and girls would go up and down the cane rows with short stout sticks which they used to strip the leaves from the cane stock.  The cane was then cut just above the ground with a knife or short hoe.  The seed pod was cut from the top of the stock and hauled away to be used as livestock feed.

The cane stocks were then left in the field to dry for a couple of days.  After drying, they were taken to the molasses mill for processing.

In Layton, Lewis Whitesides was a well known molasses maker.  In a history of Lewis written by his son, E. M. Whitesides, the following facts are given:

"The making of good molasses was his great pride.  His reputation for making this sweetness went far and wide.  His mill was situated on the south bank of Holmes Creek opposite his home.  The cane mill consisted of one large iron roller on one side and two smaller rollers on the other side.  The power was supplied by a team of horses hitched to a sweep about twelve feet long and the horses would go around and around all day long and as the cane was brought from the ricks it was fed into the mill.  The juice from the cane stock crushed by the mill was run by gravity down to the evaporating house and from there the green liquid was skimmed and then placed in the boiler.  Lewis watched the boiling process with an eagle eye.

"This product sold per gallon at about the same price as a bushel of wheat."

Lewis Whitesides made  molasses for over thirty years.  His molasses was sold to his Layton and Kaysville neighbors directly.  Also, jars of his molasses were sold at the Layton Farmer's Union Mercantile Store.

(The attached photo is Lewis Whitesides)