Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Making Sorghum Syrup 2013

The pressing of this years sorghum is now complete and bottles of the gooey sticky syrup line the pantry shelves!  And in addition to being gooey and sticky and good on a hot buttered biscuit, did I mention all the iron, minerals and sulfur?
Here in the south it is often called poor mans maple, southerners syrup, or sorghum molasses.  And whereas the ratio for maple syrup is around 40 gallons of sap for every 1 gallon of syrup, sorghum requires only 8 gallons of sap for every 1 gallon of syrup.  I'm not really sure why it is often called sorghum molasses.  Molasses, I believe, is made from sugar cane.  Sorghum is made from the stalks of the sorghum plant. 
The animals and blueberry bushes love the leftovers, and sorghum seed heads are great for feeding chickens, grinding into a flour, or for popping as popcorn.  We've heard that some people grow a type of sorghum just to be used as animal feed.  It is also known as milo and is shorter than the kind we plant for making syrup.
We think sorghum looks a lot like corn, we've been told it is very drought resistant, and that it originated in Africa.  It is also very popular used as a flour, cereal, or sweetener.  And although sorghum is considered by many to be a very southern crop, it will grow wherever corn will grow.  But one does have to watch out for frosts and plant it so that it matures and is pressed before frost occurs.
We were so thankful to get a Chattanooga #14 press earlier this year and it worked beautifully.  Jordan just had to soak some of the old bolts in some food grade oil and it was ready to go!  Johnathon is seen busily trying to get a temporary set up since we didn't know if we'd be able to press this year. Pans and presses are VERY difficult to find and we didn't know if we'd have a pan in time for cooking (before first frost).  But as I mentioned in another post, we were so blessed when a pan was found just in time.:)  Perhaps by next year we'll have a little sugar shack and a more permanent set up such as the one we had in Alabama before the storm.

For those who've asked, first we prepare the ground and plant the sorghum seed sometime in May.  We usually cultivate it twice and then, like corn, it is tall enough to somewhat shade and stay ahead of any weeds.  Sometime in October the seed heads mature and look sort of milky. 
The stalks are then stripped of their leaves and this job is an excellent one for younger children.  With the leaves off, the stalks are now ready to be cut down with machetes and they are stacked on the ground in small bundles.  We leave them there for up to a week, more or less, before pressing.
On syrup making day, these bundles are then loaded and placed near the press and someone keeps them coming till all have been pressed.
The stalks are fed through the sorghum press and the watery looking sap is then collected for cooking.  The sap has a sweet taste, as does the stalk, and my younger children very much enjoy chewing on them.:)
My oldest son has a pair of Percheron horses named Jim and Jack and they go round and round in order to power the sorghum mill. The mill presses out all the liquid (sap).  Jordan heads up this project but has plenty of brothers and sisters who love to give him a break from all the walking round and round.  So I guess you could say that another benefit is that one gets his exercise while also getting something to eat in the future.  Can't beat that, right?  Walking off those calories in advance!
Again, this years set up is temporary and was hastily put together.  My sons had to cut down a tree to be used to replace the telephone pole we used to have.  They also quickly made a fire pit using concrete blocks found on Craigslist..
A very hot fire is needed under the sorghum pan in order to cook the sap, and water is placed in the pan before the sap so as to keep it from burning.  The sap at the beginning of the pan is directly over the fire and much hotter.  As it turns to syrup it is pushed to the other end of the pan where it is cooler (to prevent burning) and then out of the pan and ready for bringing inside to cool and pour into canning jars.
I forgot to mention that it is filtered before it goes into the collection barrels.:)
We always look forward to this time and especially enjoy how hard work with friends and family also equals a great time of fellowship and a sense of having accomplished something worthwhile and beneficial.  And we also get something else off the grocery list, and have tasty hot buttered biscuits and sorghum to look forward to and a replacement for honey in our homemade bread recipes.
Friends were so kind and brought us a meal of homemade sausage gravy and lots of buttered biscuits.  We took a break from cooking the syrup and a wonderful time of fellowship was enjoyed by all.  And we had our first taste of the new syrup on the biscuits they provided!
Growing sorghum and making syrup is a lot of work but very rewarding. And while we have much to learn about the whole process and about sustainable farming, we are very thankful for the opportunity and for those who continue to help us learn and who encourage us along the way.
  Life is very busy these days, as I'm sure it is for you, but we wanted to post these pictures and preserve special memories of a wonderful time of year.  May God bless you and yours....~ Sherry for the family ~


"A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes."   ~ Wendell Berry, from "The Pleasures of Eating" ~

P.S.  Writing this post brings back many memories of the first year we grew and made sorghum syrup.  That was before the storm and our loss of Tom and it was also the last "big" farm type project we all worked on together.  We had some neighbors across the road who lived through World War II in Europe.  The very week of sorghum making they had company ( from Germany) and they saw us making syrup and came over to visit and to see what we were doing.  The woman (neighbor) was eight years old after the war and said the whole process brought back so many memories of her childhood.  According to what she shared that day, she and her family survived those years off a similar syrup they made and brown bread.  And that's about it.   Reminds me of how many choices (food) we now have and of how much we have for which to be thankful.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

This Week On Leegacy Family Farm ~ 9/28/13

Wow!  I know this post is dated 9/28/13 and is late, but I loaded the pictures on the 27th and have had trouble with the computer and posting ever since!  Ever have that happen?
Anyway, it's sorghum time around our parts and we've been, you might say, working till the sun goes down.  But we're SO thankful because the sorghum matured before the first frost AND our prayers for a pan have been answered!
The younger ones have been doing the job of taking the sorghum leaves off the stalks and the older family members use a machete to cut them down. Younger ones then stack them on the ground to be left until time to press the juice out.
The weather has been a bit warm and I suppose Judson's a little bit itchy.  The girls usually wear a scarf to keep the seeds and all out of their hair.

We also had guests during the week and they wanted to pick up some things over in the Amish community.  Imagine my surprise when we stopped by to watch them make sorghum and saw a sign announcing someone's upcoming yard sale.  This was on a Wednesday, and I made a mental note of the sale.  And then our friends who live in the area called and told us they had spotted a cheese press and Daisy butter churn at the sale.  
I don't think we'd been to a yard sale since going with our friend Robin in Alabama, but we knew we wanted to go to this one.  And I'm sure glad we did.:)  The plan was to complete school work, go to the sale, and then run other errands.  Other errands never happened.
We found so many useful items and at such good prices.  And when we thought we were done, Abi asked if we could stop by their shop and see if they had any pitch forks or tools which the boys had asked us to watch for.  I really wanted to get to our next errand, but we stopped.  And I'm so thankful we did!  We decided to ask about a sorghum pan - even though we KNEW they wouldn't have one.  They DID.  And it was 9 feet long!  When I asked the price and heard the response, I almost choked.  There was some serious rejoicing around here.:)
And then, at the shop, we met the eighty five year old visiting mother whom we've heard about for many years.  What. A. Treat.  We ended up spending much of the afternoon with her and hearing about her life in the mountains.  She still hikes two and a half miles just to get to her cabin.  She also shared lye soap recipes and how she makes cleaners and homemade lye from ashes.  I'm not sure we've ever met such a spry woman.  She got in and out of our 15 passenger van as easily as we do.  And there are no running boards!
The piglets are weaned now and four have left the farm this week.
And we attended the fire stations chili supper where some of my sons work as volunteers.  Another volunteer is showing them the fire department and vehicles.
Don't you know they enjoyed getting to see the fire truck up close?  And it was great to meet local people.
And we so enjoyed hearing friends sing at the event.  And we were so tickled when we heard the name of one of the groups.  They called themselves The Elderly Brothers.
We were also blessed to be invited to pick bushels of apples at the home of some sweet friends.
It's been smelling like an apple cannery around here, and we don't mind.  Smells like fall!
Almost done.

The work on the apples and the sorghum continue, and we're counting our blessings and enjoying the beauty of the fall days.  Blessings to you and yours!  ~ Sherry