Just before day breaks Oct. 15, John Matthews will rise before the sun and begin cooking a batch of sorghum to be a part of an annual tradition.
Matthews and his wife, Annie, have been hosting the annual Old School Sorghum Festival for the last 19 years. Held the third Saturday of October at the old McDaniel’s School, this year’s event is planned for 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15. As always, this event is free and open to the public.
A tradition, the festival, organizers said, promises to be a wonderful opportunity to experience a part of the past.
According to Matthews, he and his wife continue the tradition of sorghum cooking, because it’s almost a lost art.
“Not many people do this anymore,” Matthews acknowledged. “Cooking syrup has almost become a lost art.”
About 7 a.m. the Saturday of the festival, Matthews said he will begin cooking the sorghum. Beginning with about 45 gallons of juice, by lunch, Matthews is left with about five gallons of syrup, all made available to event patrons.
“There will be a rolling brown color,” Matthews said as he described the process of cooking the grass. “The juice will be bubbling and cooking for the first few hours.” This, Matthews exclaimed, is a process the public likes to see.
The entire process, Matthews said, will last until about 12:30 p.m. and that’s when the lines will form. As fast as the sweet syrup finishes, Matthews said people line up to get a taste. Once they taste the syrup, Matthews said it’s a taste quickly desired, which is good since the syrup will be for sale.
As part of the festival, Matthews said there will be craft and food vendors, as in years past. Some of the food available will be barbecue sandwiches, hot dogs, funnel cake, authentic Mexican food and shaved ice.
A new addition to this year, Matthews said, is a display of old feed sack dresses, organized by Matthews’ wife.
“I’m truly excited about having these dresses on display,” Annie shared. “Not many people have dresses anymore because they have been used for other things.”
The weather was perfect for last year’s event, which could have possibly brought in as many as 2,000 people. In years past, the festival has always been known to bring in a large crowd.
“Because we don’t charge an admission, it’s hard to keep up with how many people come and go,” Matthews said. “But I promise, you can look out around 11 and the grounds are covered.”
Music and entertainment will be provided by Charles Carlyle and his band, as well as Kenneth Lyle and family, AJ Bullard and Cindy Rhodes on the hammered dulcimer.
For the train lovers, an electric train will be on display. This, Matthews said, isn’t your normal train model. The train display will measure 18 feet by 24 feet and feature a miniature town.
At the festival there is an old country store open to the public, as well as the Old McDaniel School, which, he said, is like a museum. The store served the Mintz community in the early 1900s and was moved from its original location to the site of the Sorghum Festival in 2002. According to Matthews, this store housed the Mintz Post Office from 1900-1939 and was located on the Wilmington Branch of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
“Our old country store is like going back to 1900 and seeing something you haven’t seen,” Matthews said.
A popular event for children is the rope making machine. The antique machine, that is used to make rope, will be on display for the public, but Annie says it should draw the interest of the younger generation.
Sorghum syrup is a table syrup and often used in cooking at high-end restaurants in their sauces, cakes, cookies and meat bastes. Many people, Matthews said, use the sorghum syrup in their barbecue sauce.
For more information about the Sorghum Festival or for directions, visit www.oldschoolsorghum.com.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.