24th Annual sorghum festival brings community together

Attendees at the 24th Annual Sorghum Festival fed rods of sorghum through a press that crushes the plant until the sweet syrup drips out into a collecting bucket below.

By Brooke Hill | News Editor

The local Homestead Craft Village was packed with visitors from near and far Monday for its 24th annual Labor Day sorghum festival.

The festival spanned from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with activities taking place all day.

Live music began at noon, and there were plenty of options for guests to eat some lunch while listening to the music: Barbecue and brick oven pizza, with some homemade ice cream for dessert and, of course, a sorghum-pressing and syrup cook-off.

Children and adults had plenty to keep them busy, with activities for all ages. Guests were also offered hayrides and had an opportunity to watch employees create hand-made crafts.

Hazel Dickerson was visiting the homestead for the first time and enjoyed looking around in the stores to see all of the handmade goods. She said she hadn’t been back in this area for 45 years, but this was a great way to be welcomed back.

“I love it. It’s so fascinating,” Dickerson said. “I love things like this, where you can watch things be made right in front of your eyes.”

Gatesville resident Patti McKasson said she’s been to the festival for six or seven years now.

“It reminds us of when we were younger because growing up, we grew up on a farm and we made a lot of our stuff, so it’s kind of a nostalgic kind of thing,” McKasson said.

More than 70 years ago, sorghum syrup was a common sweetener on dinner tables throughout rural Texas, according to the Homestead Heritage website. Many farmers grew small patches in their fields. At harvest time, they would bring their cane to a nearby farm that had a mill. Families would work together to press cane and cook it down into syrup.

This festival is Homestead’s way of continuing the community tradition with their annual sorghum harvest. They hand cut the 10-to-14-foot-tall cane grown on the rich river-bottom soil and haul them to their sorghum mill, the website said. There, they feed the raw cane stalks through a 100-year-old horse/mule-powered press. After squeezing the cane, they allow the juice to settle for two to three hours in a stainless steel holding tank before channeling it downhill via gravity flow to the sorghum house, where they cook it over a wood fire. The green juice bubbles and boils its way between the baffles of the hot, 12-foot-long pan. As the excess water evaporates, the juice makes its way to the far end of the pan where it becomes a thick, sweet, golden-brown syrup ready for bottling.