Howell Family Farms Sorgham Mill Open
Area residents are invited to sample the new hot commodity in Clay County from 6 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Howell Family Farms Sorghum Mill located west of Pollard on Highway 62, just past Toombs Hill on the left. The biscuits and sorghum breakfast is a benefit for Hitts Chapel in Piggott and and each plate costs $5.
James Howell and his family have been providing honey to the area for a few years, but Howell decided to move into the sorghum business last year and purchased three acres for growing sorghum cane.
Growing up in Water Valley, Miss., Howell visited sorghum mills regularly with his family. In those days teams of horses were used to power the mills, but Howell uses a somewhat newer technique to make his sorghum.
In the beginning Howell said it's like anything else you practice until you get it right. "You sacrifice and go on," he said of the hours and sorghum used to perfect the families blend.
Sorghum cane is harvested when it reaches the early dough stage, when the cane reaches a Brix level of 16. Brix levels are used to measure sugar, which when making sorghum needs to be relatively high. The family tops the cane with a machete before chopping the cane down and running it through a 1930 McCormick combine, which strips and bundles the sorghum. The cane is then run through a PTO driven Excelsior mill before moving into the Chattanooga mill where the juice is squeezed out and delivered to the kettle through two filter systems.
The kettle must be at about 170 degrees for it to begin to boil and release the starch and chlorophyll, allowing the substance to be skimmed off the top of the sorghum. The sorghum boils for about four hours until the water content is lower and the sugar content is higher. Using an 80 gallon kettle, the family makes about 40 gallons of juice an hour, which in turn becomes eight to 10 gallons of sorghum per cooking.
A hydrometer is used to measure the density, which need to be 33 on the balm scale and a refractometer is used to measure the sugar, which needs to be between 79 and 81 on the Brix scale. When these measurements are reached, the sorghum is bottled and labeled ready to use.
Howell Family Farms is run by James Howell and his children, Brock, Nathaniel, Gabrielle, Mahala and Eleasah. Everyone has a job. The boys take turns at the kettle, mostly handled by Brock, who is the eldest, and the girls handle the labeling.
The family is also known in the area for the Mo-Ark Pecans and honey farm in Greenway. Howell said he encourages people to stop in and see how the sorghum is made. The family works on the commodity Monday through Friday trying to make two kettles of sorghum a day.
Prices are $5 for a one pound jar or $10 for two pounds.