Sweeter by the drop: it's sorghum time!
By Lisa Shively
If you drive the back roads through the country in Southern Kentucky and Middle Tennessee in the late summer you might have noticed a strange looking crop growing in the fields. The foliage is tall and green. The stocks with tassels topping the heads resemble corn without ears. It's not a type of corn, but the singular Southern crop of sorghum, 'sorghum bicolor'. Scattered throughout our rural countryside, the old ways are kept alive by the harvesting, the horse drawn milling and the processing of the old-fashioned staple. One such place is the Highland Community just across the state line up the road from Lafayette, TN. Overseen by community member and chief cook Joe Troyer, the sorghum harvest is a community effort, from growing and harvesting to milling and bottling. "It's a hand-me-down way of making sorghum", explains Joe. "You can only learn by a hands-on experience. It's not something you can really learn from a book. You have to learn by watching and doing." Originally from an Old Order Mennonite Community in Indiana, Joe and his family lived several places eventually settling in Highland in 1992. Before long he became interested in making the sweetener. His cousin, Reuben Habegger of the Spring Valley Sorghum Mill in Scottsville, KY was instrumental in helping Joe and, another Highland community member and cousin, Jonathan Habegger of Spring Valley Farm, get the Highland sorghum mill up and running.
"I prefer sorghum to honey," explains Joe. "I use it on my oatmeal. It's great with hot biscuits or cornbread." The sweet, thick, sticky syrup is dark amber. If stored in a cupboard at room temperature the shelf life can be as much as a year. According to Joe, "Sorghum is a healthy raw food product, containing high amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium and small amounts of potassium, riboflavin, copper and iron." He is backed by the USDA. The Sweet Sorghum Producer Association's website states that prior to the invention of vitamins, doctors prescribed sorghum as a daily supplement for those people whose diets were low in these nutrients. Sorghum is a versatile sweetener from pancakes to BBQ sauce.
Editor's note: this article originally ran in the 2016 Fall issue of Local Table. Joe has since retired and his Habegger cousins are running the Highland Community sorghum mill.
Soft Sorghum Cookie recipe: 2 c. sugar 2 c. sorghum 2 c. butter or lard 4 eggs 2 tsp. vanilla 4 tsp. baking powder 6 tsp. soda, dissolved in ¼ c. hot water 1 tsp. salt 3 tsp. ginger 2 tsp. cinnamon 8 c. flour Mix above in the order given. Chill a while so dough is cool. Roll in balls the size of a walnut, then press to ¼ inch. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes or until golden brown.
Community member, Lydianne Glick shares Soft Sorghum Cookie recipe. You can also find the cookbook, GRANDMA'S PANTRY, Cooking With Sorghum, at Spring Valley Farm's stand in Scottsville, KY.
List of sorghum mills operating in the area:
Allen County, KY Spring Valley Sorghum Mill Reuben Habegger 269 Strawberry Lane Scottsville, KY We are an Old Order Mennonite family using horse power to make our homemade sorghum. We usually begin making sorghum the first week in September. The season typically lasts until about the middle of October. We are located in the Scottsville Mennonite community. We operate a small farm stand on Saturdays where we sell fall and winter produce, baked goods, jams, jellies, preserves, relishes, pickles, apples and the sorghum cookbook, "Grandma's Pantry." Highland Produce Community Market & Sorghum Mill 6200 Highland Church Rd. Highland, KY Mon-Sat 8-5 PM This community market is served by and for the local Mennonite Community. From mid-September through mid-October, the community harvests and processes fresh sorghum with a horse-driven mill. There is no phone to call ahead for availability. Please be respectful of the community and drive slow for children, horse and buggies.