WEWOKA — They come for the syrup.
Each October, about 30,000 people come to Wewoka for the annual Sorghum Day Festival, which includes a 5k run, art and photography contests, a car show, a parade and a rodeo.
“There's all kinds of events going on there, all kinds of things,” said Dan Houser, a local grower. “But the main focus is making sorghum syrup.”
Houser has been involved in growing sorghum crops for about 30 of the festival's 37 years. The cane is planted in the spring and harvested in time for the autumn celebration, when it's crushed by a sorghum mill, releasing juice that runs into a large pan.
“The juice comes out of the mill,” Houser said, “and you boil it down until you get syrup.”
Reducing it to the desired consistency takes time. Transforming the plants into syrup can take three or four hours, he said — but it's worth it.
Once the syrup is done, you have a sweet treat to put on pancakes or biscuits.
At the festival, it's served on fry bread, making it even more decadent.
This year's gathering will be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday with activities at and near the Seminole Nation Museum, 524 S Wewoka. The event is being hosted by the museum and the city of Wewoka's Chamber of Commerce.
According to a news release, the festival got its start when a Rotary Club member was seeking something to donate to the museum in 1975. He considered buying a buggy but got a better deal on a 75-year-old sorghum mill, which cost him just $100.
Claude Wright, museum co-founder and a fellow Rotarian, saw the gift as an opportunity to show people how molasses is made. The mill was refurbished and in 1976 — the festival's first year — produced more than 40 gallons of syrup. Now, the release notes, the museum sells 400 gallons or more each year as its major fundraiser.
Relatively few people were around for that first celebration, but the event's popularity has grown, earning it coverage in an array of Oklahoma publications and honors from the state tourism department and the Frontier Country Marketing Association. The latter named Wewoka its “Tourism City of the Year” in 2003.
This year's entertainment, provided by the Oklahoma Arts Council, will include nationally acclaimed storytellers Will Hill and Jehnean Washington and teaching artist Albert Gray Eagle, who will provide instruction on flute-making.
Visitors will enjoy American Indian arts and crafts exhibitions, participatory art projects (such as mask making), regional foods and traditional American Indian dancing and music, as well as the 5k walk/run, parade and vendor offerings.
As for the syrup, Houser said it's too early to tell how much of it will be produced. The devastating 2011 drought and the hot, dry months this spring and early summer limited the sorghum yield. Recent rains, while helpful to the state at large, came too late to benefit Houser's crop.
Even if there isn't as much syrup as in previous years, one thing is certain: What is produced will be sweet and delicious.
“We put it on the fry bread, the Indian fry bread,” Houser said. “It tastes so good.”