Cecilia Pruitt’s cookies are a tradition at Blairsville Sorghum Festival

Cecilia Pruitt, 94, bakes cookies for the Blairsville Sorghum Festival. Olivia Wakim/olivia.wakim@ajc.com

Credit: Olivia Wakim

Credit: Olivia Wakim

Cecilia Pruitt, 94, bakes cookies for the Blairsville Sorghum Festival. Olivia Wakim/olivia.wakim@ajc.com

In the days leading up to the Blairsville Sorghum Festival, Cecilia Pruitt was hard at work in her kitchen, baking 2,000 sorghum syrup cookies.

She pulled a wedge of dough from the refrigerator and set it down on her kitchen island. Classical music played on a computer in the corner, and Sobaka, her 14-year-old dog, sat in front of a crackling fire in the next room. Six baking trays lined the kitchen table, each with 20 balls of dough spaced evenly apart.

With the sleeves of her sweatshirt pushed up, Pruitt methodically had rolled strips of dough into logs, sliced them into balls and then rolled them one last time in sugar.

Cecilia Pruitt rolls cookie dough balls in sugar. Olivia Wakim/olivia.wakim@ajc.com

Credit: Olivia Wakim

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Credit: Olivia Wakim

Pruitt followed these steps until she had made enough cookies to sell at the Blairsville Sorghum Festival, held during the second and third weekends in October. The 94-year-old Blairsville resident started baking cookies for the festival in 2012, after Terry Kane, one of her sons, found the recipe online.

“There are people that come for her cookies,” said Lisa Kane, who is married to Terry.

And no one else can make the cookies quite like her, it seems. Lisa Kane said she has tried and failed to master the sorghum syrup cookies — hers either came out too soft or too hard.

The cookies Pruitt pulled out of the oven had a slight crunch on the outside and a soft, chewy middle. The crystallized sugar on their surface melted on the tongue, the combination of cloves, cinnamon, ginger and sorghum syrup mingling in a quintessential taste of fall.

Pruitt took last year off from making the cookies, because she wasn’t feeling well, and the job fell to two other festival volunteers. But she returned this year as the sole sorghum cookie baker.

Her return was met with enthusiastic demand; after the first weekend of the festival, her cookies had sold out, with one person alone purchasing 20 bags, Pruitt said.

Cecilia Pruitt's cookies are a tradition at the Blairsville Sorghum Festival. Olivia Wakim/olivia.wakim@ajc.com

Credit: Olivia Wakim

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Credit: Olivia Wakim

Although Pruitt spent her childhood in Florida, she moved to Blairsville in 1955, and has lived in the same house ever since, now sharing it with her other son, Kevin Kane, and his wife.

The kitchen is the heart of her home, with a fridge covered with family photos, including snapshots of son Terry cooking sorghum syrup at the festival in years past. Dried plants were layered in a dehydrator in the corner, and the kitchen lights were embellished with flowers she painted.

For many years, Pruitt had a booth at the festival where she would sell her dried flower crafts and canned jellies, but her failing vision made that more difficult. Luckily for Blairsville, she still is able to whip up trays of cookies.

Pruitt wasn’t always the cookie master that she is now. She made her first batch of sugar cookies in third grade, but when she rolled out the dough, she added too much flour and they turned out like “dog biscuits,” she said. Since it was during the Great Depression, she had to bring them to school and eat them for dessert, anyway.

“That was a good lesson I learned,” she said with a chuckle.

Pruitt has had a sweet tooth since childhood. In Florida, her father owned orange groves and an ice cream factory. On some evenings, he would bring home pints of ice cream after checking on the factory, and her mother would make homemade root beer for floats.

“She said she was weaned on ice cream,” son Kevin said.

Now, in addition to her sorghum cookies, she bakes 10 to 12 types of cookies at Christmas that she hands out to grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends.

Cecilia Pruitt said she'll continue baking her cookies as long as she's able. Olivia Wakim/olivia.wakim@ajc.com

Credit: Olivia Wakim

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Credit: Olivia Wakim

Despite the family not having much money when he was growing up, Kevin Kane said his mother made sure they always had a good meal. He said that when she makes something new and he asks what it’s called, she’ll say, “I don’t know, I hadn’t named it yet.”

One of his favorites is her homemade pizza, which she cooks on a metal baking tray that her father made 60 or 70 years ago, its edges charred from decades of use. She even cooks for a construction crew working at the house, Kevin Kane said.

“It makes the workers here really care about what they’re doing when they know she cares about them,” he said.

Pruitt said she’ll continue baking the sorghum syrup cookies as long as she’s physically able. Despite an injury in April, she was back to mixing the batter in her kitchen and packing the cookies into plastic bags. Longevity runs in her family; her mother lived to 101, and she has 103-year-olds on both sides of her family.

“I expect to be here another few years,” she said.

Cecilia Pruitt's sorghum cookies take about 10 minutes to bake. Olivia Wakim/olivia.wakim@ajc.com

Credit: Olivia Wakim

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Credit: Olivia Wakim

This year, to keep the large amounts of ingredients in order, she introduced a new method, putting each of the different spices in coffee mugs, so she easily can dump them in when the time comes. Otherwise, she finds it difficult to keep up with which ingredients she already has added.

After laying each ball of cookie dough on the baking sheet, she put them into the oven, one tray on top and one on the bottom. When the tops of the cookies began to crack, she switched them.

The cookies take about 10 minutes to bake, according to the recipe, but Pruitt doesn’t set a timer for them anymore. She said she can smell when they’re ready and, true enough, when she pulled them out, both trays had perfectly baked sorghum syrup cookies.


This recipe makes about 200 cookies. The recipe easily is halved and the dough freezes well.

1½ cups unsalted butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup sorghum syrup

5 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon salt

4 cups granulated sugar, divided, for coating cookies

Add the butter and brown sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on medium speed until creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs and sorghum and mix on medium speed until well combined, about 1-2 minutes. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients and mix on low speed, until all the ingredients have been combined, then increase to medium speed and mix until well incorporated.

Divide the dough into five equal portions and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 375 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Remove one portion of dough from the refrigerator and transfer to a clean workstation. Spread ¾ cup granulated sugar onto a separate baking tray. Using your hands, tear off a palm-sized piece of dough and roll into a log that is 5 inches long and 1-inch thick. Roll the log in the baking tray to coat with the sugar. Slice the log into ¾-inch pieces with a plastic knife. Use your hands to shape each piece into a ball, then roll the balls in the baking tray to coat with sugar again. Place 20 balls on each cookie sheet.

Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets between the upper and lower racks halfway through. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling, about 10 minutes.

Repeat the process with the remaining four dough portions.

Makes 200 cookies

Per cookie: 38 calories (percent of calories from fat, 30), trace protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams total sugars, trace fiber, 1 gram total fat (1 gram saturated), 6 milligrams cholesterol, 32 milligrams sodium.

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