Generally speaking, it’s a Southern thing. Although over the years it’s been produced across the country as far north as Minnesota. Sorghum syrup is to the South like baked beans are to Boston.
And let me be clear, this isn’t anything like maple syrup.
Sorghum originally came to the South in the pockets and packs of the slave trade, and quickly became a favored feed stock because of the drought resistant qualities of the canes. Unlike sugar cane which does best in moist, rich soils, sorghum thrived in the oppressive heat and humidity of the deep south. Sorghum syrup is made from the pressed canes of the sweet sorghum plant. It is similar to sugar cane in sweetness but far more complex in flavor.
By the mid 1800’s sorghum syrup production totaled close to 62 million gallons a year. It was the primary sweetener in the southern states. However, syrup production was hard work. The canes had to be cut and stripped by hand, the presses were either livestock or man powered, the canes had to be continually fed into the presses, and the process of boiling down the expressed juice took a very long time. Not to mention an acre of planted sorghum only produced 120 gallons of finished syrup. By the end of the Civil War the cheap labor was gone. The South, without the resources to mechanize, left the back-breaking job of sorghum syrup production to gradually fall into obscurity. Currently, less that a million gallons of syrup are produced in the nation annually.
If you live in Georgia and have never seen sorghum syrup produced, Mark your calendars for the Sorghum Festival of Blairsville, GA October 12, 13 and October 19, 20. It’s well worth the trip!
If you’d like to support some great local producers and buy a mason jar of sorghum syrup, here’s a couple of great online links:
So, why all the talk about an obscure local syrup?
Because several of the recipes from this past year have featured sorghum syrup:
and tomorrow’s recipe highlights it’s musky, nutty, rich goodness…
… and I didn’t want you to miss out.
ps – here’s a cool steam engine video of a sorghum press in operation.