Stripping Cane

September 17, 2009 - There's a sweet smell in the air

If you happen to be driving from Blairsville, Georgia to Young Harris on Highway 76 and notice a sweet smell in the air, then you know you are close to Hughes' Syrup Mill. Fall is just around the corner and cane is ripe for cutting.

Hughes Sorghum Mill is currently running wide open and producing gallons of golden syrup. Olin Hughes and his family have been making sorghum syrup for over fifty years. Since 1954 they have been growing cane and boiling the juice into some of the best syrup around.

Nothing is better on a cool morning than hot sorghum syrup. All a person needs to go with it is a pan of homemade biscuits and a little butter. A big glass of milk completes the meal. The delicious mountain tradition of sorghum syrup and biscuits has caught on around the country and beyond. Sorghum syrup is also the perfect addition to gingerbread and oatmeal cookies. For more information about sorghum, plan on attending the most well known event in Blairsville, Georgia, the famous Sorghum Festival! This year's Sorghum Festival will be held on the weekends of October 9th and October 16th. Come on out and support our local Blairsville Jaycees. See you there!

Olin Hughes Syrup Mill

Olin Hughes Syrup Mill in Young Harris, Georgia

Olin Hughes and his family have been making sorghum syrup in Young Harris, Georgia for over fifty years. Since 1954 they have been growing cane and boiling the juice into some of the best syrup around.

Their mill is located on Young Harris Highway in the Baldview Community. The buildings are sparkling clean and everything is set up to run efficiently.

The first thing you notice is the sweet smell in the air. The steam from the boiling juice drifts through the crisp mountain air. "Everyone is welcome to visit the syrup mill," says Hughes. "People come from all over. They say it is a unique experience, but for me it's pretty usual. We do this every fall."

The mill has used propane gas fuel for boiling the juice since 1962. "In the early 60's we also screened in the whole area to keep bees and bugs out. The yellow jackets used to be really bad."

Hughes says that people used to come from as far as 80 miles to get him to process their cane. It is a lot a work and his family has always helped. There's his wife, Lois, and their daughter, Eloise. "Eloise's job has always been to fill up the jars. She's really good at it." Lois smiles and says, "Everyone comes to buy the syrup from me. They know mine's the best!"

The Hughes have two sons, Cecil and Terry. Cecil is bringing big tanks of juice to the mill after crushing the stalks out in the field. Terry is running the pans and keeping an eye on the boiling syrup. There are many steps in getting cane to the market. Hughes explains, "First you have to plant the fields and grow the cane. Then you strip it and cut it down. The tops have to be cut off and the stalks crushed. Then you haul it in, strain the juice, get it to the pans, boil it, strain the syrup a final time, and bottle it. There are labels to put on and lots of clean up, too."

"We are growing a variety of sorghum called Honey Drip." Says Hughes' son, Terry. "It seems to be really good. There are all kinds of sorghum and we've tried most of them."

It takes 9-10 gallons of juice to make one gallon of syrup. In the 70's, Hughes' mill processed more than 11,000 gallons of syrup. Now they average around 2,000 gallons. Sugar content seems to be down. An acre of sorghum cane used to produce 175-200 gallons of syrup. Now an acre produces maybe 125 gallons. Why is the production down? No one knows. It may be permanent or it may be just a cycle. "It has been a gradual decline," says Hughes. "Hurricane winds cause a loss in production, too." Hughes has 10 acres tangled up from wind damage this year.

"All things considered, it's a pretty good life," says Hughes. "We try our best to produce a high quality sorghum syrup. So far, all of our customers seem pleased." Lois adds, "Try some on a hot buttered biscuit, that's how everyone around here eats it."