JAMESTOWN – Syrupy and sweet, sorghum has put Muddy Pond on the map.
For years, the small Mennonite community outside Monterey has churned out the good stuff, drawing thousands of visitors from both far and wide.
But Lyna Pennycuff, co-owner of Fentress County’s Sycamore Springs Christmas tree farm, says the best-tasting cane in Tennessee may come from Clay County, instead. Lyna and her husband Joe started growing sorghum in 2012 after visiting with a small group of Mennonites there, and the byproduct has proven a popular seller during the holiday season.
Sure, the Pennycuffs have trees galore – pre-cut Fraser Firs from the North Carolina hills; ball and burlap, a trendy choice these days since it can be replanted later; even trees you can trim on your own. But sorghum is the real treat; just part of the overall Christmas atmosphere that keeps people coming back.
“We love molasses, and we found out the best tasting molasses comes from down around Celina,” Lyna said. “About three years ago, Joe started a correspondence with some of the Mennonites there. He developed a pen pal relationship. Even though he’s a retired ag teacher and a farmer, he had never grown sorghum cane. So he would write and say, ‘what’s the best way to harvest these?’ (etc), send the letter and three or four days later, he’d get a response. They told us the best tasting molasses is made when you strip every single leaf off the cane. So we started growing sorghum cane – and apparently our soil is ideal for that, because even the Mennonites can’t believe the yields we get,” she said.
The Pennycuffs take their cane, after harvest, to Celina, where the Mennonites cook it and keep a portion. The rest is brought back to Sycamore Springs to sell alongside local honey and other goods.
“It works out really well,” Lyna said, “because the cookies we serve at Christmastime are homemade ginger snap, my momma’s recipe. Once you taste one, you have to buy the molasses, because we give away the heirloom recipe with each jar.”
Sorghum aside, the Pennycuffs expect this Christmas season – their fifth selling trees – to be Sycamore Springs’ best. Studies show more Americans that bought live trees last year than artificial, and, Lyna said, it’s an tradition that can’t be beat.
“The experience, of course, is wonderful, but the aroma of a natural tree, when you take it home, it just fills your whole house with a Christmassy atmosphere,” she said. “And they are just absolutely beautiful.
“It’s all about tradition,” she added. “It puts the emphasis on doing something together as a family, instead of going to the mall on Black Friday or surfing the web on Cyber Monday. We have people who come in and say, ‘we look forward to this every year.’ We love it.”
Sycamore Springs is open for the Christmas season until Dec. 23; Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays from 2-5 p.m. or weekdays by appointment. For more information, call (931) 879-5526.