Molasses Making

Molasses making in haywood county nc

Molasses making in Haywood County NC

molasses boiling, molasses making, molasses stir off noun A social work activity, sometimes lasting all day, at which the juice of sorghum cane is squeezed and slowly boiled, producing a thick syrup that became a principal sweetener for traditional mountain food. The syrup was sometimes fashioned into candy, esp by young couples, by pulling stretches or "ropes" of it until they cooled into sticks, and eaten. 1922 Tenn Civil War Ques 18 [School] amed to run 3 mos but stoped through fodder pulling and molasses making. 1939 Campbell Play-Party 18 Clearings, log-rollings, house-raisings, corn-shuckings, bean stringings, apple peelings, 'lasses stir-offs, and quiltings, though said to be not as common as they once were, still survive. 1945 O'Dell Old Mills 4 Molasses making were gala occasions. Neighbors often helped with the tedious task. After all was finished, the last run was allowed to boil until it was ready for candy. While it cooled, all hands were washed in the nearby stream, greased thoroughly, and then each Jack chose his Jill for the candy-pulling. 1966 Frome Strangers 240 He remembered how the farmers never hired hands for wheat threshing, but would help each other; how the boys and girls shucked corn together and had a time telling tales and singing, as they did at spelling bees and "'lasses boilings." 1982 Maples Memories 12 I still got to see the "lassie making" though. We kids would be on our way from school, and Uncle Burt Ogle would be making molasses. We would see the old mule going round and round, grinding out the juice of the sugar cane, as one of the men would feed the mill. 

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


It's the time of the year for molasses making. Pap always called molasses sorghum syrup or just plain syrup so that's what I think of it as. Pap's father, my Papaw Wade, was known for his sorghum syrup making skills. Pap told me stories about Papaw Wade going around the territory to help others with their syrup after he had finished his own. 

After I was married and started growing a garden I told Pap I wanted to grow cane and that he could teach me to make syrup. I still remember the way he laughed as he said "Why Tipper you ain't go nowhere to grow cane. It takes a whole lot to make syrup and you can't grow it on the the side of the mountain. 


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Bleached Apples?

Old way of bleaching apples for putting up

This is the season for apples in Appalachia. I've made applesauce, apple jelly, and apple preserves. Most years I dry at least a few apples, but the pesky squirrels didn't leave me enough to dry this year. 

Although I use my handy dandy dehydrator to dry my apples, I've always been interested in learning more about the way folks in Appalachia bleached (dried) apples by using a sulfur smoking method.

I once read a wonderful clear account of the tradition from John Parris's These Storied Mountains. The ladies he interviewed for the short piece lived in the Bethel area of Haywood County NC.

On the day he visited, they were having an apple-paring bee. In other words several women had gathered together to enjoy the fellowship of one another as they worked on preserving apples for the coming winter months.

Basically the bleaching or drying technique was: 

  • Apples were peeled, quartered, sliced and then placed into a basket
  • While the apples were being prepared, 2 ax heads were heating inside the wood stove 
  • A metal pan was placed in the bottom of a wooden barrel that was sitting outside
  • Once the basket was filled, one of the red hot ax heads was placed in the bottom of the barrel in the metal pan
  • One teaspoon of sulfur was poured onto the hot ax
  • A stick ran through the basket handle and then the basket was hung down inside of the barrel
  • Lastly the barrel was covered with a thick piece of cloth.

After about 30 or 40 minutes the apples were considered bleached or dried. 

As the apples finished they placed them inside a crock and covered it with cheesecloth. The ladies continued to dry apples and add them to the crock until it was filled. When the crock was completely filled, it was stored in a cool dry place until the apples were needed.

A few statements made by the ladies:

"First off, I want to tell you there is nothing better than bleached apples except ripe apples right off the tree. You can't tell the difference nine months later."

"I have bleached apples right up into May every year, and they're just as fresh and crisp and juicy as when I peeled and quartered them."

"We dried apples too back then. But when I found out about using sulfur I never dried any more. Bleaching them with sulfur is easier and better."

When I first read the apple bleaching piece from the book I thought "Well that's nice, but we've come a long way since then and I'm sure sulfur is poison and it's a wonder those folks lived so long (one lady was in her 90s)."

Soon after I dismissed the idea of using sulfur I read about the health benefits of sulfur being added to dog food. That prompted me to do some Googling around. I quickly discovered sulfur is still used in preserving/drying/bleaching fruit...only today its large companies that are using sulfur not the average home preserver.

Even though the use of sulfur in the dried food industry is FDA approved, there are folks who think it's dangerous and should be avoided.  And there are companies who dry fruit without using sulfur. 

I know there are still folks out there who use sulfur to dry their apples each fall. Someday I hope to witness the technique for myself, until then I guess I'll have to be satisfied with the account of Mr. Parris. 


p.s. Chitter is having a great sale over in her Stamey Creek Creations Etsy Shop. 25% off everything in the shop, no minimums and it even counts on the existing sale section as well! Go check it out! Christmas is just around the corner 🌲  

p.s.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing Friday September 22, 2017 @ 7:00 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Blairsville, GA. 

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How To Make Grape Jelly

Our grape vines did very well this summer and its a good thing since there was no blackberries to make jelly with! A friend of Miss Cindy's gifted us with the grapevines several years ago. They've only become real producers for us over the last two summers. 

Grapes are so much easier to pick than blackberries and they're even easier to turn into jelly, but I'll sure be missing my blackberry jelly this winter. Even with the extra work blackberry is my favorite.

Picking Grapes in Appalachia
The first step in making grape jelly is to pick the grapes. If you're as lucky as I am you might have a pretty young lady to do that part for you.

When I'm picking grapes I always look around under the vines on the ground. You can often find freshly fallen grapes that only need to be picked up. 

How to make grape jelly with fresh grapes

Next up is washing the grapes and de-stemming any that need it.

Once those steps are completed I wash the grapes a few times in cold water to make sure all the bugs, leaves, and grit are gone. Next I place the grapes in a large pot and add enough water to keep the grapes from scorching. I usually add water until I just begin to see it coming up between the grapes around the bottom edges. 

I simmer my grapes for about 20 minutes to soften the skins.

I use my ricer to get the juice and pulp out of the grapes and then discard the skins and seeds. Grape seeds are so large that a simple colander or sieve works good for this step too. 

You need 5 cups of grape juice to make one run of jelly. If you don't have enough you could make a half a run, pop the juice into the freezer until you get more or add a little water or store bought grape fruit juice to make up the difference. 

Easy wayj to make grape jell

Grape Jelly

  • 5 cups grape juice
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 1 box pectin

Pour juice into a large sauce pot and stir in pectin. Cook over medium high heat and bring mixture to full rolling boil. Add sugar all at once and stir. When juice returns to a full rolling boil, boil for one minute. 

Immediately ladle hot jelly into sterilized hot jars and seal. I turn my filled and tightly sealed jars upside down for about 5 minutes and then set them upright and cover them with a towel until they cool. Make sure each jar has sealed, then store until you're ready to use. If a jar doesn't seal, put it in the frig and eat it first.

What I just described is the open kettle method of canning jelly. If you read any cookbook or the instructions that come with pectin they will advise water-bathing the jelly for 5 minutes. Please do this if you'd feel more comfortable. I grew up with the open kettle method of canning and have been doing it myself for the last 20 years so I feel safe in processesing mine in the old time way.  


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing on Saturday September 2 at 1:00 p.m. at the Andrews Brewing Company's Bluegrass Festival in Andrews NC and Sunday September 3 at 12:00 p.m. at the Heritage Festival in Blairsville GA.

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Leather Britches

Shucky beans

leather britches, leather britches beans noun
Green beans put on a thread or string (as at a bean stringing), dried in the pod by hanging on the porch or by the fireplace or by laying in trays or on scaffolds in the sun, and preserved for later boiling in water and winter consumption. 
1913 Kephart Our Sthn High 292 Beans dried in the pod then boiled, "hull and all," are called leather -breeches. 1939 Hall Coll. Hazel Creek NC They'd dry their beans, yes. They'd dry leather britches beans they called it. I dry mine in the sun. My grandmother dried hers on a string, hung them up in the porch or around the fireplace and dried 'em. I still dry those leather britches beans. That's what they called 'em then. (Clara Crisp) 1957 Parris My Mts 212 It's a flour sack filled with dried beans-in-the-hull which mountain folks call "leather-britches." 1975 Jackson Unusual Words 155 Dried beans had numerous names-leather-britches, fodder beans, shuck beans, and dry hulls. 1977 Shields Cades Cove 36 These were known as "leather britches" beans, and when rehydrated, cooked, and properly seasoned, they were delicious. 1978 Montgomery White Pine Coll. III-2 Our beans we would dry them. They called them leather britches, and you'd string them on your string till you got something like a yard long, then you'd hang them in the smokehouse or somewhere when it was warm weather and they'd dry out. Then all you'd have to do in the winter if you took a notion for green beans why you could go get your leather britches and put them in the water and soak them overnight and you'd just have a  livelier spell of green beans than you ever had when they come out of the garden. 1982 Smokies Heritage 66 = long string beans strung together by needle and thread then hung upon the cabin or smokehouse wall to dry. 1986 Ogle Lucinda 50 So they would dry fruit and berries of all kinds also string green beans with a needle and thread and hang to dry. These were called fodder or leather britches. 

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


It's been a few years since we've strung up any leather britches, but we've got them on our to do list for this summer. If you've never had leather britches they are very good, but have a completely different taste than fresh green beans or ones that have been canned. 


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Making Pickles

How to make bread and butter pickles
Pickling's More'n Cucumbers - Murphy (Mountain Cooking by John Parris)

"To many a mountain woman who grew up at a time when the kitchen stove occupied most of her 16-hour-long day, pickling is a heap sight more than just preparing cucumbers.

"It's most every thing," said Mrs. Tennie Priscilla Cloer. "It's meats and fruits and vegetables."

"I came along at a time you had to plan ahead for the long, cold winter months when the food came mainly from the cellar," she recalled. "You pickled and preserved all sorts of things."

"We pickled beets and beans and corn, watermelon rind and tomatoes and kraut, cherries and apples and peaches," she said...

"Pickling's a lot different now from what it was back when I was coming on. Back then we didn't have glass jars. We did our pickling in two-gallon and three-gallon stone jars and put beeswax paper over them as a cover. "I was 18 years old before I ever saw a glass jar. The first ones were half gallon jars and very thin. Later they got out a green glass jar and it was better, didn't break so easily."

"As a child, I remember my mother used 30-gallon cider barrels to pickle her beans and kraut and corn in. She had one barrel full of beans, one full of kraut, and one full of corn. It was enough to last the family over the winter."


So far, I've only made one run of pickles this summer, but I'm hoping to make more. Here are some of my favorite pickling recipes.


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Old timey kraut

A noun Sauerkraut, widely made in the mountains, stored in barrels and kept for winter consumption. The food is the most significant German contribution to mountain cuisine, and the term is one of the very few from German in the mountain vocabulary.
1913 Kephart Our Sthn High 289-90 In the vocabulary of the mountaineers I have detected only three words of directly foreign origin. Doney is one. Another is kraut, which is the sole contribution to highland speech of those numerous Germans (mostly Pennsylvania Dutch) who joined the first settlers in this region, and whose descendants, under wondrously anglicized names, form to-day a considerable element of the highland population [note: sashiate is the third word, according to Kephart]. 1939 Walker Mtneer Looks 3 The German word kraut survived, for the obvious reason that there was no equivalent in the technical vocabulary of the Scotch-Irish housewife. 1960 Mason Memoir 15 The barrels were utilized as containers for the storage of such mountain comodities [sic] as saur kraut, pickled beans, bleached apples, and pumpkin butter. 1962 Hall Coll. Newport TN A pregnant woman will spoil kraut or [the] mash for a run of liquor...A woman, when her menstrual period is on, when she makes kraut, it'll rot. (Burl McGaha) GSMNP-80:15 We would put a cloth over the kraut now and pickled beans, and we'd put this big plank and then we'd hunt and get us a big heavy rock, wash hit off right clean and put it on the plank and that would mash it down in below kraut, and that's how we would have it, you know, the kraut and pickled beans, [and] you know that kraut was so good we would just go get us a handful, squeeze the juice out and just eat a handful. 1977 Madden and Jones Mt Home 27 Pickled beans and kraut were kept in large stone crocks in the spring-house. 
*B verb To make sauerkraut of.
1917 Kephart Word-list 413 I don't do like old Mis' Posey, kraut my cabbage whole. 

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


More than a few interesting tid-bits in the definition for kraut from the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English.

I wonder if Kephart's statement about the three words is true? And I wonder what in the heck sashiate means?

I've always heard a woman who is menstruating can't help put up kraut or pickled beans and corn, but never heard about it effecting liquor. And I've never heard anything of the sort said about a pregnant woman.

Papaw Tony said his mother would make several crocks of kraut each year. She would can the kraut as a crock made, but she left the last run of the year and they would eat that crock before using the canned kraut. Papaw's mother krauted the core of the cabbage to. Similar to the person in the definition, Papaw would sneak and stick his dirty little hand down in the crock and dig around until he found a core to eat. 

I can't imagine krauting a whole cabbage-I wonder if it would work?

I'll leave you with a few kraut posts from the archives of the Blind Pig and The Acorn



  • The Pressley Girls will be playing Saturday May 27 at 7:00 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater in Bryson City NC. The cost of admission is 10 dollars and all money raised will be used for maintenance of the Lauada Cemetery.
  • The Pressley Girls will also be performing Sunday May 28 at TBA in Blairsville GA at the Spring Arts and Crafts Festival. 


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Memories and Food

Memories connected to food

Each of us have memories that are connected to food. Typically those remembrances are directly related to our childhood, you know the things we ate around the family table like the chocolate gravy I told you about earlier this week.

A few years ago I shared my thoughts about memories which are connected to food you put up yourself. Here's a portion of that old post:

"Recently I watched the rain come down in sheets while I ate apples I dried back in the fall. As I munched my tasty apples, I realized there's another reason why things we put up are good. 

On a yucky dreary day my dried apples gave me sunshine; a slice of crystal clear Georgia sky; and the sounds of 4-wheelers and giggling girls. In other words my apples gave me a swirl of good memories from the day I dried them.

I've long realized we have memories and emotions tied to certain foods-like how we can taste a certain food and instantly be taken back to childhood. But I've never before thought of food in connection to the actual day it was made.

I'm positive the next jar of tomatoes I open I'll smell the hot summer sun shining on the green leaves and the next time I cook a jar of greenbeans for supper I'll think of the early summer days when we planted them together in Pap's big garden with friendly banter back and forth among us all."

I've kept pondering on the idea of food I put up being tied to the memory of the day I put it up.

I couldn't seem to care about none of my growing things after Pap died. But last fall as The Deer Hunter and I harvested the largest crop of apples we've ever grown I felt hopeful. Hopeful that all those apples would make some delicious applesauce for us, hopeful that I would dry apples from them for snacks and for a Christmas apple stack cake, hopeful because I knew Pap would be so proud of those apples.

So in some weird, maybe even silly way my canned applesauce became wrapped up in my grieving process for Pap. Now each jar I open reminds me of the hope and sunshine that came after the greatest rain of my life. 


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What People Used to do with Pumpkins

Seminole pumpkin growing in appalachia

I'm most familiar with using pumpkins for pies, breads, rolls, roasted seeds, and decorations. I know folks used to eat pumpkin stewed as you would potatoes and that folks dried the pumpkin for using in soups and other things. While flipping through These Storied Mountains written by John Parris I came across an article he wrote about other ways folks in the mountains of Western North Carolina used pumpkin in days gone by.

Pumpkin Is More Than Just Pie by John Parris

Some mountain women make a pudding of boiled pumpkin. And some still make pumpkin molasses, which provided sweetenting in grandma's day. Back then the word "molasses" was used in the same way we use "syrup" today. When cooked for a long time in a large quantity of water, strained and the water further reduced by boiling you have pumpkin molasses. 

Then there is pumpkin whiskey.

As knowledgeable old-timers will tell you, pumpkin whiskey is a heap sight easier to make than corn whiskey, and not as risky. All you need is sugar and a good-sized pumpkin. You cut a plug out of the top of the pumpkin, clean out the seeds and the pulpy mass to the meat. Then you pack the hollowed out pumpkin full of sugar, replace the plug, seal it with wax, and set the pumpkin under the bed or in a dark place. In a week or so the sugar has turned to liquid and you've got yourself a quart or so of whiskey.

The pumpkin, truly a symbol of autumn, is deeprooted in American Life.

In the early days, it was used stewed in soups, in stews, in pie and pudding. The flesh was dried for winter and early spring. The seeds were used as a delicacy. The early settlers here in the hills learned to grow them in their fields of corn. It was common practice 50 years ago to plant a seed of pumkin in a hill of corn. To the pioneers, the pumpkin was one of the most versatile of vegetables. 

Pumpkin could be stored in the fall, down under the fodder bundles, and then served as a vegetable-peeled and boiled, it was then fried- through most of the winter. It could be dried, or freshly cooked, and put into the cornbread batter. 

Most of us think of pumpkin pies when we see a wagonload of pumpkins or pumpkins sitting on the back porch or lying at the barn door waiting to be stored down under the fodder. But pumpkin is more than just pie. It is bread and a pudding, a butter and a molasses. And many a mountain family right now is savoring one or all of them.


I hope you enjoyed the old article written by John Parris. His description of pumpkin molasses made me think of the old saying waste not want not. By simply using pumpkin and water they laid up good thoughts for the sweetness that would be added to their family's plates in the coming months purchased only by the work of their hands.

The winner of Chitter's Stamey Creek Creations necklace is...Gina Price who said: Hi Tipper!!! Beautiful beautiful! I would be so proud to wear the necklace in the giveaway! Handmade with love from a member of one of my favorite families...Talent abounds in your sweet family, beautiful blog, beautiful music, beautiful jewelry, beautiful hearts! God bless each of you, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Be sure to drop back by tomorrow for another Thankful November giveaway


*Source: These Storied Mountains: Pumpkin Is More Than Pie written by John Parris

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Gathering Shocks of Fodder


Growing corn for fodder

When Pap was a boy, corn was the most important crop folks grew-I guess it still is for many farmers. Corn not only helped people survive through the winter, it was also necessary to ensure the farm animals survived the winter months too.

Here in the Southern Highlands of Appalachia, it was typical for folks to leave their corn in the field until it had been frosted on a few times and was completely dried out before the process of gathering was started. The corn in those days was different from the sweet corn most of us are familiar with today. It's often called field corn.

Pap's family's first step in the process was to top the corn. The tops of the corn stalk were cut out just above the ears of corn. As they gathered several tops and bundled them together they became tops of fodder for the animals. Pap said tops could be stored out in the field and didn't have to be stored in a shed or barn. The topping portion took up to a week or more to complete depending of course on how much corn you had.

Corn for fodder

The second step was to gather shocks of fodder. They would go back to each stalk and pull all the dried leaves from it, tying the leaves into shocks of fodder. Pap said these were usually kept inside the barn or corn crib. This process also took about a week or so depending on the amount of corn.

The last part-was actually gathering the ears of corn. Pap said folks in this area sometimes waited as long as December to gather the corn. Leaving the ears on the stalk longer ensured the corn was completely dried out. After gathering the corn, most folks left the shucks on until they needed to use the corn. Pap said leaving the shucks on helped deter mice and weevils from getting in your corn. Although, Pap does recall some folks hosting corn shucking parties where folks gathered to shuck corn and visit with one another.

Pap's favorite part of gathering corn was the camaraderie. Neighbors would join together to help one another with their corn. Pap said the women would always cook a big meal for the men to eat. Even though they were working in the field all day, Pap said corn gathering was still fun to him.

Bullard House

Recently Pap and I have been assisting a local historian document the oldest houses in our area. One day last, week Pap took us to the old Bollard place. I've drove past the old house my whole life and never realized it was there-tucked back in the woods.

Exploring old houses

We were amazed the house still had a few personal items in it even though it is falling down and slowly being reclaimed by nature. While we were there Pap's memories started bubbling up to the surface of his mind and he recalled one corn gathering dinner from his childhood that took place in the old home.

After a day spent in the field the men were sitting down to eat. A team of horses with a wagon load of corn was standing by a couple of sheds up above the house. There was also a team of steer hitched to a wagon full of corn. The steer had real long curved horns. Pap said something spooked the steer and they took off on their own, running into the horses. One of the horses was cut by a steer horn. The horn sliced the horse's stomach open and part of it's insides came out. Pap said he'd never forget his Grandpa washed the horse's guts off with soapy water and tucked them back inside it's stomach and sewed the wound up with a piece of sea grass string. The horse lived.

Corn gathering

Nature has laid claim to the old homeplace. It's hard to envision the woods surrounding the house being open enough for wagons to travel through, hard to imagine folks gathering to eat in the old house. But the wagons, the corn, the food, and the sea grass stitches are still there, locked in Pap's memories.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and the Acorn in 2009.


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I Made Peach Jelly...Even Though Granny Told Me Not To

Making peach jelly from peelings

Last week Kim, a Blind Pig reader and a friend, posted about making peach jelly from peelings on Instagram. I asked her to share the recipe with me and she did.

Granny taught me to make apple jelly from apple peelings, but I had never thought about using peach peelings in the same way.

Miss Cindy brought us a basket of white peaches from the farmer's market and I was already planning to make a pan of Peach Bars. After I read the recipe Kim sent I thought "This is going to work out perfect. I can save the peelings from the peaches I use to make the bars and make jelly with them." And that is exactly what I did. 

Frugal peach jelly recipe

I had to borrow a pack of sure jel from Granny to make the jelly. She asked what I was making and after I told her she said "You should just make peach preserves like I do. That jelly will have peach fuzz in it." Before I could say anything Chatter said "No it wont' Granny. Every time I eat a peach I eat the peeling too and it don't taste fuzzy." 

Well Granny still didn't think I should make the jelly, but I did and it is wonderful! The jelly has a real peach taste and since I used white peaches it is a pretty light orangey pink color. 

Here is the recipe Kim sent me: Peach Jelly - The Easy Way

After I made the jelly I remembered reading that peach seeds can be poisonous. A quick google assured me that you'd have to ingest a whole heck of a lot of ground up peach seeds to be poisoned.  If you'd rather leave the peach seeds out of the juice process just to be on the safe side, I don't think it will make any difference in the way the recipe turns out. 


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