Bernson's Corner: Sorghum makers - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bernson's Corner: Sorghum makers

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In pioneer times, sorghum was a common crop, brought to Kentucky by slaves from Africa. It was the upland South's answer to sugar cane.  Today, there are only a handful of people who know how to run a sorghum mill.

We're meeting some of them, in Bernson's Corner.

When October turns to November a line is crossed. It's the line between iced tea and hot coffee, between shirtsleeves and a jacket, between the relief that summer's over and the dread of the upcoming winter.

"It is an old-time thing to do," says Janine Washle.  It's a scene right out of life a century ago: Janine and David Washle are making sorghum syrup. The same 1968 John Deere tractor that plowed the field last May is running the mill that squeezes every last drop of sweet, sweet juice from the cane.

Janine explains, "Every cane that's going through that mill right now -- we touched it. So again, that whole connectedness with the earth."

The Washles used to be city people -- Louisvillians until a few years ago -- and on 200 acres, they are growing a new life -- a life on the land in the southwest corner of Hardin County.

As David puts it, "When I go to Louisville, I feel disconnected. Fighting the traffic, even to E'town anymore. We're here and we love it, and I'm not ever leaving, that's for sure....Lot of people look at us and ask why we do it. You can look around and see why. Lot of friends, lot of family, and everybody has a good time.

"Of course, God controls the elements and so forth, so we were praying for rain in the springtime, and we got it, and that was a blessing. And sorghum actually grows great in drought conditions, so we were totally cool with the fact that we didn't have any rain!"

Meanwhile, apple butter is happening.  People take turns stirring gallons of apples in a copper pot. Another fire is cooking down Janine's special burgoo. It's all labor intensive, but there are plenty of folks to pitch in. And many others -- the elders -- have their long memories jogged while witnessing again what is almost a lost art.

It turned out to be a pretty good year for the sorghum. The Lord's responsible for that, the Washles believe. But now, the Lord's part of the work is over and it's time for the Washles' part of the work to begin.

The juice is filtered a couple of times, poured into the giant cooking pan, and the fire is lit. Hours from now, maybe two, maybe six, the syrup will be done. You need patience for sorghum making.

Someone's brought home-made cornbread. And now everyone gets to taste the marriage of the ancient elements: the earth, the rain, the air, the fire, the very essence of Kentucky, sweeter than almost anything but simple faith and friendship.

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