Sorghum Days aka SqueezeStalk 2016

Picture

Where did this idea come from? Well, I was trying to think of ways to produce my own sugar on the homestead and I figured the easiest way to do that was grow sugarcane. I researched it and back in the 1800s they use to  grow it here in Missouri but it doesn’t seem like they do it anymore. Sugarcane does better in climates that are tropical so the next thing I came up with was growing sorghum.

The crazy part of all of this was that I just decided to do it and figured things would fall into place. We went to Baker’s Creek Pioneer Village in Mansfield where they sell heirloom seeds and we purchased a few seed packages containing the Black Amber variety. I planted them in May of 2014. They grew like crazy and I had researched mills and substitutions of mills and I knew I couldn’t afford a new or used mill so I read some blog that said you could use an old wringer washer. I did find a neighbor that had one but looking at it, there was no way it was going to work at least in my mind.

The days started to accelerate towards September when the the stalks would be ready and we still didn’t have a mill and I started to panic because we still didn’t know how we were going to get the juice from the stalks until one day my husband and I were talking and he said, “What about Bert?” Anyone around this area knows Bert. He has everything. He’s just an old retired guy that tinkers around on different projects constantly. So we decided to go to Bert’s.

We pull up into his driveway and got out and started walking towards his front door and there is this rusty looking piece of machinery a few feet from the door. Jeremy says, “Babe, I actually think this is what we’re looking for.” We knocked on the door and we asked Bert what it was and he said it was a sorghum mill. He just pulled it out a few days before so he could sell it as a yard ornament to someone. We asked how much and he said $100 so we bought it. I think that mill was meant for us!

It was seized up and needed a bit of work but Jeremy got it going pretty easily. It’s a smaller sized horse drawn mill but it did the job.

So how do you know when it’s ready? That’s all based on the seed heads. Also, it’s a preference to whoever does it has well. Some actually will dehead early to increase the sugar levels in the stalks. What we do is test the seeds. Grab a seed from the head of the stalk and try to break though with your thumb nail. If it goes through easily and its white like milk. It’s the milky stage and that would actually be the time to dehead if you were going to which we don’t. We like the soft dough to hard stage which is when you can’t break the seed. To us, I kind of feel like that comes by pretty fast so you have to check weekly to make sure.

I also pay attention to the date I planted. Most varieties of sorghum will range from 100-120 days to maturity. When the stalks are ready, you need to cut them down. I usually just use loppers. They need to cure which usually boosts your sugar content as well. I’ve tried a week and less and the happy amount for us is about 3 days. You have a choice to strip the leaves before they are cut down or after. I let the stalks cure out for 2 days in hopes that the juice goes to the stalk and out of the leaves. I don’t know if that is accurate or not, it’s just what I tend to do.

After you stripped the leaves and deheaded they are ready to go. The processing day is a long one so start really early, it’s an all day event which is why we have “Sorghum Days” and we invite friends out to be a part of it.

Our 1st year of sorghum (Black Amber variety)

We didn’t have my mother in law’s plow horse so Jeremy rode for 6 hours… Needless to say he was saddle sore!

The juice–Also from our first year, we did it a little different this year

Our cousins cooking down the juice into syrup (and a few curious and meddling ducks)

From this year, Jeremy built and welded together a stand

Squeezing of the stalks

 

 

 

Stormy and Jane (A better view of Jeremy’s handy work)

Sorghum from this year (variety called Sugar Drip, we loved it–produced more than we were use to)

Stripped down, ready to be ran through the mill

Oh yeah, I should also mention. We make sorghum syrup. Many people think that sorghum is molasses but molasses is actually a byproduct of sugarcane. Anyway, back to it now that the sorghum is ready to be processed, that’s exactly what you do. You put the stalks in the biggest end first and just keep going until you’re done. The raw juice needs to be filtered. We use cheesecloth and it works pretty well then we use a propane burner and start cooking it down. While this is being done green stuff will rise to the top. That is impurities and needs to be skimmed out and it is called “Scum.” Eventually it will start to turn brown and get thick but it takes quite a while.

Picture

This is a picture of my grandma Fern from 1944 processing sorghum.

 

Hope you enjoy this post! Any questions feel free to ask!

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s