Mennonite family makes sorghum syrup the old-fashioned way

Mennonite family makes sorghum syrup the old-fashioned way

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Muddy Pond is a picturesque slice of what things used to be like for many. Muddy Pond is a picturesque slice of what things used to be like for many.
"The young people, they get an idea there is more to the world than the cities," said John. "The young people, they get an idea there is more to the world than the cities," said John.
Power on the farm comes from more natural sources, like horses. Power on the farm comes from more natural sources, like horses.
"You start as soon as you can hold a knife," Edwin said, "Of course, we don't depend on the children to stay with it all the time." "You start as soon as you can hold a knife," Edwin said, "Of course, we don't depend on the children to stay with it all the time."
All of their products, and some that aren't made by the family, are for sale in their shop. All of their products, and some that aren't made by the family, are for sale in their shop.

By KRISTIN FARLEY 
6 News Anchor/Reporter

MONTEREY (WATE) - It's a fall journey well worth the drive.

In this week's Made in Tennessee, we traveled to a Mennonite community about an hour and half outside of Knoxville to watch how one family makes a sweet, unique syrup in their own traditional way.

The community of Muddy Pond is tucked away between Knoxville and Nashville about 20 miles off of Interstate 40.

In Muddy Pond, you'll find people still doing things the old-fashioned way. Young and old work in unison for the same goal.

And as we quickly found out, power there comes from more natural sources, like horses.

Muddy Pond is a picturesque slice of what things used to be like for many, and still are for the Mennonites that call the area home.

We met up with the patriarch of the Guenther family, John. He told us that more than 30 years ago the entire community came together to make sorghum syrup or what many call molasses.

John said there is a difference between the two, though. He said sorghum is not as bitter as blackstrap molasses and it comes from a different crop.

"People come up and say, 'Sugar cane?' But I say, 'No, this is sorghum cane because in Tennessee, we get frost. Sugar cane cannot stand frost'," said John.

Community involvement in sorghum making began to wane in the 1980s, so John made the decision that his family would continue the tradition.

"I enjoy seeing people come, still come on a farm, out of cities," he said. "The young people, they get an idea there is more to the world than the cities."

The Guenthers encourage people to come watch them make sorghum syrup in September and October. Visitors can also buy the syrup directly from their store.

John's son Edwin, who still works on farm, remembers every fall the exact same way.

"It's almost like the folks show up on cue," he said. "It's like nobody's around, not too many people around, then all of a sudden we start making sorghum and people start showing up."

Edwin is one of five sons still producing and selling the family's sorghum. Countless grandchildren do their part as well.

"You start as soon as you can hold a knife," Edwin said, "Of course, we don't depend on the children to stay with it all the time."

But as we saw, a lot of the work is still done by John himself. He turns 70 this month, but he's not slowing down.

In fact, he still enjoys stripping the cane, harvesting it and using an old-fashioned, horse-powered press to squeeze out the neon green liquid that cooks down to sorghum syrup.

For decades, this way the only way the sorghum was pressed and made into syrup. But nowadays things have changed to keep supplies up for their store.

Out in the fields you will find a modern day mill that cuts, presses and produces the valuable juice right in the field.

"In the earlier days we stripped it all and took all the leaves off," he said. "But then we realized that was not necessary."

This process speeds everything up, meaning they can pump out more than 250 gallons of sorghum syrup during every batch. That, of course, means more sales inside their variety store.

Once inside, however, you soon realize there is a lot more there than just sorghum. You'll find homemade sorghum cookies, shoo-fly pie, even dried herbs, canned jellies, and other trinkets not necessarily made by the Guenthers.

On a good fall weekend they see hundreds of people pass through their doors.

You can also catch the Guenthers giving demonstrations in Dollywood and in Cades Cove. But if you want the true experience, head to their home in Muddy Pond.

Saturday will be their last day of cooking the sorghum, but all their goodies are available for sale year-round both in their store and on their website.

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