"DON'T FALL IN THE SKIMMIN' HOLE" - Molasses Makin' Was Country Ritual

By Bob Weaver

There was a time in Calhoun County that most every family raised a cane patch, the green stalks were stripped in late September to be placed in a mill and the sugary juices squeezed, usually on ones own property.

Now, few people grow sugar cane.

Molasses makin' at Grover Starcher's
late '30's or early '40's - Village of Hur

The squeezin's were then placed in an "evaporating pan", and the thin juice was boiled down into the rich, thick sorghum or molasses, used during the winter for sweetener.

Each neighborhood had their molasses maker, traveling from farm to farm by horse drawn wagon. The molasses makin' sites usually stayed the same, and smaller growers would fetch their cane over to a neighbors farm.

The pressing mill was turned by a horse walking in a circle at the end of a pole, the juice flowing into the heated pan, under which a wood fire was maintained.

As the juice was stirred, boiled and moved around in the pan, a green scum would come to the top. The master sorghum maker would skim the green stuff off and fling it into the "skimmin' hole" dug in the ground near the pan.

The playfulness of the event usually ended up with someone stepping or being tossed in the skimmin' hole.

I can still hear Uncle Russ Slider yellin' Don't fall in the skimmin' hole, you boys."

Families made it an all day event, and bonfires were lit as night approached, and children played hide-and-seek.

Grover Starcher and Alva Bell were the last of the master molasses makers around the Village of Hur, and dozens of other Calhoun men owned molasses mills.

It is this tradition that has been preserved at the West Virginia Molasses Festival in Arnoldsburg.

Remembered is the long list of molasses makers at the festival, most who have gone on.