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!