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Hwy. 355 is quiet with a hint of fall in the air and beautiful country along the Kentucky River. Then a crowd is gathering, more than a 100 people and they are still coming. Young and old, overalls and dress, everyone is made welcome.
All this activity is the Sorghum Festival. Jay and Ruth Gibson have been having this festival for 20 years as a party for their employees and it has grown to include many visitors from all over the state.
The festival includes music, art and demonstrations of times past. For instance, a grist mill, built in the 1700s, was grinding meal for a 50-pound cake of cornbread. Wayne Whitaker brought his Civil War era cannon and shot over the Kentucky River, just in case of a Henry County invasion.
They came anyway.
Whitaker lives 30 miles up a holler in Hazard County and has no need for computers and such. A horse-drawn hay baler, built in 1910, was bailing hay across the way, and the crowd was fascinated.
Some other interesting people and “goin’s on” were:
•Jay’s 80-year-old friend, Mr. Yager, rode horseback with 35 other riders up the trail to Jay and Ruth’s log cabin. He had such a good time partying, another rider had to bring his horse back to camp.
•Mr. Buckley came by horse and buggy again this year from Turner’s Station. (A four-hour, 20-mile trip).
•Then there was Ron Devore playing dulcimer and offering his artwork for sale.
•A bluegrass band provided music and dancing Saturday night.
•The two-wagon hayride through Perry Park was packed with people having fun.
With the cake of cornbread mentioned earlier, Jay said all the meats are fresh. The chickens were still cackling at 2 p.m. and there was chicken stew for supper. The catfish and white buffalo fish were caught during the day — I saw them still swimming in the barrels — and were grilled and served the same evening. There was food every where; fried lamb, T-bone steaks, pork chops, ribs, fish, chicken, potatoes, and home-made ice cream served with strawberries.
Even with all the eating going on, sorghum was being made. Ordinarily, everything needed to run the presses is on the property, because the steam engine and the vats are all heated and run with wood. Jay ran into a small snag with the steam engine, which was built in 1894. That did not stop him for long. Mr. Gibson just hooked up his John Deere and the presses were rolling again. The only problem he had, and I quote, “I had to go to town to get fuel for the tractor and had to use my beer money.” That little frustration was quickly overcome when his friends stepped up to the plate and produced some homebrewed beer. He promised all five steam engines on the property would be running next year. Only one of the presses was horse drawn.
Sorghum is made with sugar cane, looks like molasses and is delicious. I sampled and it was the best I have ever tasted. The making of sorghum is an art that is fading, but Jay’s son and some young people working there are learning the process. It is refreshing to meet Jay and Ruth who take pride in preserving our past with this event.
Gibson is self-taught and offers his knowledge to anyone who is interested in hearing and learning about sorghum. The sugar cane is grown on their farm in Carroll County. When asked how his cane did in the drought, he grinned and said, “The cane gets watered, even if the tobacco don’t.” His cattle get the cane after it is pressed. When they see him coming, it’s a stampede. He said that the cane is just like a candy bar to them; therefore, there’s no waste in his process.
He has a knack for preserving and recycling. The home he built strictly from cypress wood he gathered from the swamp in Florida and wood saved from historic buildings and family homes. No wood was purchased for the beautiful log home he and his son built.
Many means of transportation are used to get to the event: horse and buggy, cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles.
My mother-in-law, Pat Rollins, accepted an invitation to go on a river cruise. Capt. Mike and his first mate, took us out on the mighty Kentucky. His love, appreciation and knowledge of the river are obvious. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had nothing on us. Mother-in-law was armed (and dangerous) with a shotgun in case of alligators. None were spotted. She was a little disappointed. She is from Florida.
Did I mention that people are there the entire weekend and stay under stars, tents, campers, RVs, etc?
The three-day event is action packed, even more than I could tell you. As we were leaving, we were told to be sure to come back next year and were promised more of the same the second weekend in October.