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Arkansas Living February 2012 : Page 20

made from a large sheet of aluminum, which was initially treated by boiling tomatoes in it to remove the oil fi lm. (This process is also used to season the buckets that will later hold the cooked liquid.) In the cooking of the syrup, the pan is suspended over a huge pit of hot coals, and the fi re is constantly fed with hickory and oak to maintain the heat needed to keep the mixture cooking. Villines, a veteran molasses-maker, keenly watches over the batch as the mix-ture gently cooks and bubbles, and its color deepens. The liquid is constantly skimmed to remove any impurities that form on the top in an effort to ensure that the special After testing the batch with his uncle’s spoon, Jaxon Woods gives his lick of approval. A cheesecloth over the bucket fi lters out any impurities. attached to long wooden poles. The mule then becomes the hardest-working part of the team by processing the syrup as he constantly walks in a circle, which turns the cane press. For about three hours, as stalks are pulled off the pile and carefully fed through the press, metal rollers crush them to squeeze out the juice. As the clear, sweet juice comes from the press, it pours through a hose into a large “evaporator” pan that Vil-lines built. The 5-foot by 42-inch frame of the pan is made of sassafras wood. The pan is “That’s what I use to dip and taste the syrup to test for ‘doneness,’” he said. After being involved in the process for the past 60 years, he knows the importance of timing. “If the mixture scorches, it will turn to candy and be, as the old-timers once told me, ‘as slow as molasses on a cold day,’” he said. When Villines gives the word, the sor-ghum is ready to be strained into the metal buckets and carefully poured into glass jars. The timing has to be perfect. If the mix-ture is poured up too soon, it remains runny and “uncooked.” If it is overcooked, it is too thick and develops a strong taste. After the cooking process is complete, the pan is quickly removed from the hot coals and the last of the syrup is scraped from the pan, usually by anxious helpers and bystanders who have been waiting for hours to taste the latest batch. During a recent batch-making session, the most anxious by-stander was Jaxon Woods, Villines’ 4-year-old nephew, who spent a big part of his day supervising Grasshopper’s journey. At the end of the day, young Jaxon had the privilege of tasting the syrup from a cedar spoon that Villines whittled, just like his father did 60 years ago. And based on Jaxon’s positive re-sponse, he may very well be among the next generation to carry on the long tradition of molasses-making in the Ozarks. • FEBRUARY 2012 In the course of a few hours, the help of many friends and the aid of one very patient mule, the pale green juice produces a rich golden nectar. metal hand-shaped skimmers do not scrape the bottom of the pan. While the men are busy taking turns in feeding the press and stirring the liquid, Vil-lines’ wife, Sally, keeps everyone well-satis-fi ed with a continuous stream of strong, hot coffee. In the morning, there are homemade biscuits and sausage, followed by beans and cornbread for lunch. Much later in the day, a pig roast begins. Timing is everything Villines carefully pours up the fi nished product. 20 Villines still has the cedar spoon his fa-ther whittled for him when he was 6 years old.  , $5.$16$6/,9,1*

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