Molasses, bear stew and vinegar pie

Through the mill: A volunteer at last year’s Big Ivy Heritage Festival feeds stalks of sorghum into a mill to to express the clear juice. The juice is cooked down for hours until it turns into the familiar amber-colored molasses. Photo courtesy of Melinda Stuart

The Big Ivy Historic Society will offer a day-long trip back in time and a great opportunity for a free food adventure with its Fourth Annual Heritage Festival on Saturday, Oct. 12, in Barnardsville. Visitors will have a chance to see traditional craft and blacksmith demonstrations and sample everything from homemade preserves and apple butter to less mainstream fare, such as vinegar pie and bear stew cooked over an open fire.

A highlight of the event will be the processing of sorghum into molasses, according to festival coordinator Denny Dillingham. Big Ivy Historic Society members and local residents grow the sorghum on land in the community and harvest it when it ripens each fall.

Using a mule and grindstone, volunteers will crush the sorghum to extract the juice, then boil it for more than six hours over an open fire to turn it into molasses. Visitors will be able to watch the process and taste the freshly made molasses for free. The molasses will also be sold for $10 a quart, and cookbooks by local author Melinda Stuart that feature sorghum recipes will be for sale. 

Dillingham says the purpose of the event, which typically draws up to 1,500 people each year, is to keep the history of their small, rural community alive for the younger generation. “We like to do this due to the heritage of our community,” explains Dillingham.“We want young folks to know a little bit about what transpired in those days.”

The festival grounds, located on the site of a former U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps camp from the 1930s, boast a restored 1890s one-room schoolhouse and a pre-Civil War cabin, which will be open to guests. A storyteller, local craft vendors, carriage rides, musket and cannon demonstrations, live performances of old-time mountain music and tours up the Little Snow Ball Mountain Fire Tower will also be part of the fun. The site has picnic tables and a creek for wading too.

The festival takes place 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Big Ivy Historical Park and Community Center, 540 Dillingham Road, two miles southeast of Barnardsville. Admission and parking are free.

About Gina Smith
Gina Smith is the Mountain Xpress Food section editor and writer. She can be reached at

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