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Local Molasses Mill Owner Values Working Off the Land

By Ashton Logan
Hottytoddy.com intern

At the intersection of CR 431 and Hwy 6 in Oxford, James “Jaimie” Howell brings your grandmother’s saying “slow as molasses” to life with his wood crafted sorghum mill.

“I remember being fascinated by going to the sorghum mills in the past, and at some point I said, ‘I’m going to do that,’” Howell said.

Video by Gene Crunk

Howell, from Water Valley, graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1983 with a B.B.A. in Business.

“I’ve done a lot of different things, and this is just one of them,” he said. “I’ve been making sorghum for the last three or four years.”

Sorghum is a grain that grows tall, like corn, in the drier parts of the U.S. since it is drought resistant. Howell originally started making sorghum in Arkansas with a small flat pan, and when he and his wife moved back to Mississippi he brought his business with him.

According to Howell, after he harvests the cane it is run through a 100-year-old mill. When the juice comes out it goes into a 600-micron filter into buckets. He then runs the cane juice—as he calls it—through a 400-micron filter and stores it in a freezer overnight until the juice is cooled. After this process, Howell then processes it through a
200-micron filter and finally cooks it in his 80-gallon kettle.

After the syrup cooks in the kettle, it then goes into a stainless steel trough and into a stainless steel container. Howell submerges the container into a tub of water, with a spout on it, where he then runs cool water into the tub and out of the spout. This allows the syrup to cool and ensure that the sweet substance stops cooking.

“Every batch is different. Some of this is hill cane, some of this is from bottomland, some of it is from sandy soil or clay soil,” Howell said. “Every batch has different characteristics.”

The process of cooking 64 gallons of juice and converting it into his sweet syrup takes around five hours.

“It’s a pretty powerful setup,” Howell said. “I usually try to do 64 gallons of juice and that usually is going to give me about 10 gallons of syrup.”

Not only does he create mouth-watering molasses that keeps people coming back week after week, but he is also a beekeeper by spring and a pecan farmer by late fall after the sorghum season is up in late October.

“I do a lot of stuff off the land,” said Howell. “I’m a little different than your usual Ole Miss graduate. It’s kind of my thing.”

According to Howell, he is a one man show so his business hours vary with what needs to be done that day, whether it be hauling and cutting cane or waiting on his sweet syrup to cool.

“Generally I’m not very far away so I can get someone some sorghum,” Howell said. “A lot of times, I will do the honor system and leave a few jars here and say, ‘leave $10 under the bucket, take some and go.’”

Howell welcomes customers as if they were family to his wooden, framed mill and has captured the feeling of what life was like before the hustle and bustle of our fast-paced society. His simple, hardworking composure reminds all who meet him that the best things in life take time to become sweet, just like molasses.

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