By Anita Baker, News Editor, Caldwell Co. Times Leader, October 1999
Larrupin! It is a lip smackin’, plate lickin’ good thing to have. Usually, the term references food—often a particular breakfast food set upon a country table, but it can be applied too for the feel of a delicious experience. One recent, just-turned-cool September day, it was both.
The delicious experience was a journey to the sorghum mill in a hilly countryside with meadows and deer-dotted woods along the winding path of a narrow, ill-marked lane.
Newsom’s Old Mill Store proprietor Nancy Mahaffey had dangled the invitation for the trip on more than one occasion. This time, the lure snagged and the catch was landed. She fetched back a load of prime cooked sorghum—a sweet treat; I fetched back some prime time—sweetly spent.
It took a day for the trip—one that Nancy made more from memory than the directions that were faxed by the mill operator—an Amish tradesman earning a master’s marketing degree from the ground up.
The day started early, but not before the work day. She checked on the store; I on the office. Both were left in good hands and well in hand.
The trek started south through Hopkinsville, along the scenic route through rural Christian County into Todd and beyond—past field and farmhouse, past bell tower and steeple, past the memory of Jefferson Davis.
At one stop along the way, a Bradford pear was losing its leaves —still green but falling like soft rain, as much because the rain would not as because the wind had coaxed them down.
The architecture along the way was a lesson in style—federal, gothic, colonial, Spanish, Mediterranean, Greek revival.
Nancy piloted the truck on instinct and the art of direction learned at the elbow of the late Col. Bill Newsom—her father.
The destination was a sorghum mill near Holland somewhere east of Scottsville. She had secured the miller’s hand-rendered map (just a reminder) that morning.
The navigator (my adopted roll) had gone to the trouble of hitting the Internet and found a Yahoo map that led from western Kentucky into Holland which really had very few familiar townships along the way.
Looking past the recognizable landmarks of Franklin and Scottsville, the trail led into the realm of Halfway, Temperance, Fleet, Petroleum, Raley Ford, Fountain Run, Doddy Branch and just cross into Tennessee, Barefoot and Bugtussle, straddling the border between. That is what printed from the computer screen, and it was a surprising reassurance when it was confirmed by the highway markers along the route.
There were those occasions during the journey when the pilot casually dropped the hint, “You know this just doesn’t look all that familiar.” She seemed at times to have no recognizable concept of east or west about her sense of destination, but there was a sure concept of how life flows. The navigator would scurry to shuffle through the three sheets that mapped out the route—three to zoom in on the more obscure landmarks. A familiar number, a junction, a looping intersection and the doubts would subside for another 20 miles or so.
Up and down the valleys, hugging the curves and countryside—the journey produced a gorgeous field of wildflowers and a spring piped though the hillside rock beside a seldom-used barn.
The mill master’s map charted the trip to Ky. 100 leading to Holland, there hanging a right on 99 to Bandy Road (1333), then another right onto Highland Church Road.
However, that is the point where intuition took over, the navigator said, “Oops, I think you (not we) just passed the turn...You know, I think that was it. There’s no road sign here, but it’s kind of blacktop and the mileage on the sign matched what he put under this last road name—0.3 miles.” A quick backtrack, a turn and soon the country air—driving now with the windows rolled down—confirmed this the molasses trail.
A sweet fog of steam off the boiling cane juice beckoned the traveler on. And, there at 0.3 miles the mill was perched on the hillside. A shed for cane and two mills with men feeding the four-horse-powered grinders.
Green juice ground from ripe cane trickled underground through a maze of piping into the cook shed. Gravity played its role in the tri-level operation.
The green juice boiled from vat to trough to pan to pan to pan. Practiced eye and work-worn hands strained the scum. Purified by fire and the sweat of many brows, the juice turned pan to pan from green to amber to a deeper hue and trickling finally into the vat a light brown (you know—molasses colored). From the vat, the Amish cooks tapped the thickened juice, still warm from the 100-yard process, into gallon pail and pint jar.
Beside the truck pulled up to load at the back door, a horse and buggy stood waiting to carry the millers back and forth on errands to the nearby farm warehouses.
The cases were piled high and the return was a slow, sweet journey sharing the road with horse and buggy across a couple of county lines—then gradually back to divided highways and the storefront destination in Princeton.
Yep, it’s larrupin’. Sweet molasses and rich country memories come out of the Allen County hills near Holland and across the worn wooden floor of the country store at the lower end of Princeton’s East Main.