I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was the head coach for the middle school boys’ soccer team. We finished the season last night with the county play-offs where we won 4-0! During the regular season, we had a record of 11-1 which made us the number 2 seed.
Semi-finals games were played Monday where we beat the number 3 seed. In a big upset, number 4 beat number 1 which left us to play the number 4 seed for the championship game. After some political nonsense, we finally got to the final game Wednesday afternoon where the boys were super excited!
I played soccer and other sports too as I was growing up. In particular though, I played soccer in high school and I was a fair player…certainly not good, but tolerable. Still, I liked sports and enjoyed time on the field. I do not think I was ever as in to it as the boys on this team were though! Their energy was electrifying and I think I got more hyped up than I have been in a long time!
So, anyhow, we shut out the other team and ended our season on a super high note! I am so proud of these boys and truly enjoyed the last few months getting to know them better, teaching them what I could and encouraging them to be good young men!
Like many folks, I typically get irritated when I see the big box stores roll out Christmas stuff before Halloween. I mean, seriously, why do they do that? I am still trying to wrap my mind around the end of summer (though these freaking cold temps are helping to make it feel real to me now!) I cannot possibly contemplate Halloween already, let alone Christmas!
Anyhow, soccer season is finally coming to an end. I don’ know if I ever mentioned it but I am the head coach for the middle school soccer team where Isaac attends. We have had a great year and are in the play-offs for the county championship next week. It’s dark early now and as I have regular work during the day, our soccer time is limited…and increasingly cold. After practice is over, we are usually pretty well shot.
I was delighted last night as I returned home, to discover that Emily had been to the store and found eggnog! And not just any eggnog but the very best eggnog of all, Southern Comfort eggnog! Please, people at Southern Comfort, make a product page so I can keep up to date on when and where I can find your eggnog! I would marry it if I weren’t otherwise attached to my wife and kids! It’s amazing stuff! Nectar of the gods I sometimes call it!
The Southern Comfort eggnog replaced my exhaustion as it coursed through my system and made me awake and alive once again! I am still not quite ready for Christmas (or even Halloween really) but Southern Comfort eggnog will soothe my soul through both Halloween and Christmas! Bless you Southern Comfort, bless you!
That tie-in finally happened! It took a tremendous amount of work, a lack of good sense and a little liquid courage but we raised a beam on which the roof rafters would rest. Once that was done, it was all down hill. I ended up buying 12′ long boards for the horizontal boards that came straight out from the house. The angled boards that form the slope of the roof were 16′ long though I really only needed to span 14′. Unfortunately, our big box home improvement stores don’t sell 14′ boards.
Anyhow, all of that is to say, we got big boards and they were heavy so I am glad my brother was here to help. I ended up getting treated lumber because I could find it (sometimes stuff is hard to find in a big box store…including helpers who know where all the things are located) and because it was only a few dollars more expensive overall. Treated lumber is almost always wet from the treatment process so weighs a lot more than typical boards. Did I mention stuff was heavy and that I was glad my brother was here to help?
So, we got the basic frame up and, one of these days, we will add sheathing and tar paper and metal to finish this thing off. I am mostly excited because I think it makes sense why we left the gap in the siding now. I know people who live up by our place think I am crazy but at least this one weird thing now (hopefully) has an explanation! I just need to connect the decks and I think that will button up a lot of the remaining questions!
I hope, dear friends, that you don’t mind hearing a little more about my sorghum. You see, I am just so happy to have followed this whole process through from getting the cane mill to planting to finished product. I am already planning a much larger patch for next year so we should have a really nice bit of syrup by next fall.
A few people have asked me where I got the sorghum idea…I was reading Mother Earth News magazine and saw an article on the topic. I was intrigued and started my mill hunt. I found that sorghum is finding a new life in people reviving the art of sorghum making and I just had to be a part of that.
Finally, last night we got to really enjoy the fruit of our labor…I made sorghum cookies! Holy cow they are good! I stole the recipe from here.
Best Sorghum Cookies
1/2 cup margarine (I used unsalted butter)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sorghum
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream margarine (or butter), shortening, and sugar. Beat in sorghum and eggs; set mixture aside.
3. In an another large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Blend thoroughly with wire whisk.
4. Gradually mix flour mixture into creamed ingredients until dough is blended and smooth.
5. Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Dip tops in granulated sugar; place 2 1/2-inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool on wire rack.
Store in tightly covered container to maintain softness.
I know, I know…you could barely contain yourself, waiting for the conclusion to the sorghum saga. In my last post, I described how we pressed the sorghum cane to extract the sweet juice using our Kentucky No. 0 Cane Mill. We didn’t really pay much attention to how much juice we actually got but it was enough to make me smile. Of course, anything greater than “none” would have made me smile. Anyhow, we got several gallons of weird looking green sorghum juice.
To make the juice into syrup, one has to cook the water off of the juice which thickens the liquid into syrup and converts sugars and starches into wholesome goodness that is otherwise known as sorghum (or sorghums as the old timers call it).
Originally, people cooked the juice on a wood fire in a large cast iron cauldron…sometimes several feet in diameter. The cauldron had a lip which allowed the cauldron to sit on a circular brick or stone wall inside of which a fire was built. Sorghum cookers got more sophisticated and built long, shallow evaporator pans with baffles which allowed the cooker to add juice to one end and move the sorghum through the pan to the other end as it cooked where syrup was eventually pulled off. Either of these options are still viable but involve a good bit of money to purchase or make. I already have a good bit of money invested in the cane mills and couldn’t see spending any more this year.
It occurred to me that a turkey fryer is not much different from an old fashioned cauldron so we decided to cook our juice in a turkey fryer over propane. I know, it is not too authentic but I had to go with what I had. One of the first things that happens when one turns on the heat under sorghum juice is that a tremendous amount of nasty foam rises to the top. This happens every time as a part of the process and the foam has to be skimmed and discarded. I had a ladle I used to dip it off of the top. We stirred the pot nearly continuously to prevent burning the syrup. It took a few hours over low heat but the juice gradually cooked down and thickened. The smell of the mixture changed from wet pumpkin (almost as bad as wet dog) to sweet…sweet something. I can’t really describe it but it was a nice smell. Finally, the color changed from green to a beautiful amber color. We tasted often and watched it thicken. I finally decided it was done and pulled off the end product. We ended up with 2 quarts plus a little of homemade sorghum syrup and it tastes great!
We learned a lot and, more importantly, spent a lot of quality together-time. We didn’t get enough sorghum to make it extrinsically worth it, but satisfaction in seeing a product through from field to jar is worth a lot to me. Seeing my kids helping out and enjoying time spent is worth a lot to me. Feeling some connection to how old farmers in WV might have produced their own sorghum is worth a lot to me. The syrup is really a secondary part to all of this, but what a sweet bonus it is!
Once upon a time there was a mule called “Brother”. Brother was drafted into turning a cane mill for what seemed like hours on end. After becoming dirty and dizzy, he began to bray for help. Another mule called “Wife” heard his braying and decided to help. With Brother on one end and Wife on the other, the cane mill turned and turned under the hot sun. Then Wife became tired and brayed, “Why can’t I have a rope to pull this load, why do I have to push?” The farmer hooked up a rope to the cane mill. Brother pushed and Wife pulled the cane mill under the hot sun. Round and round the cane mill went while Brother and Wife became dizzy and tired. Finally, both Brother and Wife started braying so loudly that farmer had pity on them and hooked the rope to a tractor. Brother sat upon the tractor and the tractor turned the cane mill round and round under the hot sun. Wife went back and forth, carrying more cane to the farmer who sat upon the ground. The two mules said nothing to the farmer about not thinking of the tractor earlier. However, every time the farmer got hit in the head by the board attached to the mill’s roller, the sounds of “hee haw! hee haw!” were heard throughout the land.
I think her story is hilarious and pretty well summarizes how our day went…
The plan was to process the cane I described yesterday into sorghum syrup. Basically, the canes are full of liquid with natural sugars and other magical things that give it a distinct flavor. To extract the liquid, farmer Warren has to crush the cane using a cane mill. Farmers in the old days used to hitch up horses or mules to a long pole attached to the center roller in the mill. As the animals walked in circles, the rollers turned crushing cane fed into the mill a few pieces at a time.
We reassembled the mill and lagged it to a few sections of old railroad ties. Old timers used to attach the mill to a tree stump that was quite solid in the ground. You see, when the rollers are turned in the mill, a tremendous amount of torque can be generated. If the mill isn’t attached to something solid, it will be spun around…not something I wanted to deal with as a 600 pound block of iron in motion is slightly more than I can handle.
So, we got it assembled and rigged a board to the center shaft. I was the first draft animal to take a turn at the mill. It was slightly easier than I expected to turn the mill. It was frozen solid when I got it so nothing moved. I guess I had an idea that it would be only slightly easier to turn once it was cleaned up. I had not assembled it even once since restoring it so I had no idea! Luckily, it turned well so we decided to start crushing cane. We tried to run a single pieces of cane through it but it didn’t really work.
The rollers are supposed to be spaced at around 1/16th of an inch. On each end of each roller, there used to be bolts that could be used to adjust the spacing of the rollers. On my old mill, I was able to free the top bolts but I couldn’t replace them (not for this year anyhow). The bottom bolts remain frozen in place so I had some ability to adjust the tops of the rollers but the bottoms were set in iron…literally. We set up the mill under a spruce tree so I grabbed a few pine cones and jammed them into the top of the mill to force the rollers closer together. Surprisingly, it worked amazingly well! The spacing at the bottom of the rollers was a little too wide so I had to be careful feeding the cane so that it went mostly towards the top of the joint between the rollers. That worked just fine but was less than ideal.
So, as I said, I was the original draft animal but I had the vision on how to feed the cane too so my brother, who has a mind well suited for being a draft animal, took over turning the rollers (just kidding…he has a PhD in chemistry). Really, neither job was too glamorous. After a few turns, we were both dizzy (and I swear it had nothing to do with the liquid wheat we had nearby) and decided to hook it to the motorized draft animal. I remained on the ground to feed stalk while Isaac and my brother took turns riding the tractor. I suppose we ran cane through the cane mill for 3-4 hours slowly learning tricks and getting better at the process. We had to fight the mill a few times as I got impatient and fed too much cane. The torque increased and we spun the mill in circles…luckily we kept the mill low to the ground for safety. Next year, I will mount it higher and more substantially to make it easier to feed cane and to minimize rotation.
When sorghum juice flows, it is pea green. Truly, it doesn’t look appetizing and I think it smells like the guts of a pumpkin around Halloween. Still, we got juice flowing and I was so excited. The process was working! We pressed a bunch of cane and had a nice bunch of juice to cook down. You’ll have to wait until the next post to hear about that adventure (yeah, I lied yesterday…I have to write more than 2 parts)!
But let me back up. The sorghum grew pretty well once it started growing. I planted a patch around 50’x50′ and it produced a lot of nice canes and beautiful red seed heads. But, of course, time got in the way and it did what sorghum does when you ignore it and don’t harvest when it needs to be harvested. It fell over (which is called lodging). I have read where it might be caused by a number of things but in the end, it adds difficulty to harvesting mechanically and may ruin the canes even if they can be harvested.
Luckily, we got into the field pretty quickly after it started so all of the canes were in good shape although we lost all of the seeds that I otherwise had planned to save and grind into sorghum flour. So, next year I will try to beat the lodging and save the seeds.
So, my brother and I took turns swinging the machete to cut the stalks at the ground while the other stripped leaves from the cane. The leaves aren’t harmful to the sorghum exactly but apparently they add a bitter taste to the finished sorghum syrup. I suppose we spent an hour or two harvesting the patch. It seemed like a small job but it turned out to be a lot more work than we expected. It’s also sticky and dirty work as the sugar content of sorghum cane is pretty high.
We tied the canes into my brother’s trailer and hit the road to my parents’ house around 4pm…their place is around 6 hours away so we rode sticky and sweaty and dirty and had a long day. The plan had always been to harvest and process the cane at our place so we could have an old fashioned neighborhood pressing party like they used to do a hundred years ago. We ran out of time though so decided to have a pressing party at my childhood home where we were planning to visit anyhow. Still, I was on the edge of giddy as I had my first crop of sorghum cane harvested!
I’ll write more in my next post about pressing and cooking the syrup that was in the cane. Harvesting, it turns out, was the easy part!
When I was a kid growing up in the country, we pretty much stayed dirty all the time. We picked up worms and snakes and drank from the hose and ran barefoot. We ate wild teaberries and jungled around on grape vines…stuff a kid ought to do, you know? We currently live in the city so it’s not quite as easy for the kids to explore the woods but I am so pleased when we get out to the cabin.
Abigail has a couple of really great girlfriends that live nearby out there who all like to explore and enjoy all that the woods has to offer. She ventures over to their place as soon as we get to the cabin and we don’t see her until we ring the dinner bell. When she finally does come back home, she is filthy and exhausted and absolutely full of joy!
Last weekend, our neighbors were working on some old fence. They moved some slabs of wood and found four toads and a turtle….the toads were the biggest I think I have ever seen! In typical fashion, those three girls saved the toads and turtle and made a regular home for the critters. Each one had a name and, by the time I came around, a label on their personality…
I am so glad that Abigail is not a girly girl, squeamish around such lovely creatures. I am thrilled that she climbs trees and enjoys the mud between her toes while she catches salamanders near the pond. I am delighted that she has some fellow girl-explorers who love to spend time in the beautiful creation all around them!
Earlier in the spring I bought a cane mill to press sorghum stalks into sorghum syrup. After that one, I bought another (click for “before” pics). When it was time, I planted sorghum seeds and proceeded to do nothing at all related to the cane mill until the last 2 weeks when I have been working furiously to break down the second cane mill (it’s smaller) and fix it up so it will actually be capable to pressing sorghum cane! I decided on John Deere green and yellow since this is ultimately a Deere-made mill…clever, eh? I also decided to paint the inside of the mill as well as the rollers. Some folks don’t do that but mine were already painted before I got it and modern paint, when dry, is inert so shouldn’t be a food hazard. I will probably do more research and, if necessary, sand blast the paint if I decide it is a problem.
Anyhow, you see, like everything, time flies and the sorghum was just doing what sorghum does…grow! It grew and grew and it seemed like I had plenty of time to get the mill ready. Here it is almost October and I am not yet ready! Sorghum is apparently ruined if the stalks are frozen so I have a fairly short window of time left to harvest. Fortunately, the mill is apart and I was able to run a grinder over a bunch on it to remove rust, dirt, etc.
All in all, I think it is shaping up very nicely. These pieces each weigh quite a bit (the entire piece weighing somewhere between 400 and 600 pounds…I don’t have a scale that big and there is little info on this model. I guess I could weight the individual pieces but it doesn’t really matter) so it takes a good bit of work to manipulate them and hold them just right while I run the grinder. Still, I think the pieces are turning out beautifully. Of course, I have inhaled a lot of the rust and grime. I was so excited to just get time to work on them that I forgot to wear a dust mask. I did wear ear and eye protection though!
So, I may try to harvest the sorghum this weekend or the next but the mill shouldn’t be the hold up. I’ll show some more pics when we get it back together and when we actually do harvest!