Farm Equipment Fridays: Cooking Sweet Sorghum

FEF badge thumbnail Part 3 of 3 – you’re in the homestretch!

As you can imagine, it takes some doing to get the watery sweet juice from the squeezed sorghum stalks (sorry, I couldn’t resist.  I’m done now.) to turn into sorghum syrup.

The 250 gallons of juice we started with had a sugar content of 17 degrees on the Brix scale (which is 17% sugar).  The final syrup has around 80% sugar.  That’s a big jump!

To make this happen, we use this set up.DSC_0405-1

First, the sorghum juice sat in the settling tank overnight (this one actually isn’t the picture.)  Sorghum has a lot of calcium and other minerals in the juice.  These settle out overnight, which makes the heating later more even.

Then the juice is transferred into the preheating tank.  In this tank, the juice is heated to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, and then is let to cool off for 2 hours.  This helps with the later cooking process.  A lot of the impurities are boiled to the top and removed form the juice that eventually makes it into the big cooker.DSC_0405-2

The preheated juice is transferred with a pump to the holding tank.  This is just the reservoir to add to the cooker.DSC_0406-1

Then, the cooker.  This is a giant stainless steel pan with divisions that is heated from underneath.  Each division has a window on one end where the heated juice can travel from one section to the next.DSC_0405-3

The juice is moved from the holding tank to the cooker by gravity.  On the way, it travels through the sponges in this bucket to filter out any solids that did not settle out overnight.DSC_0413-1

From there, into the cooker for some heat!DSC_0417-1

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Heat to boiling.DSC_0462-1

And skim off any of the impurities that come to the surface.DSC_0451-1

Hey, pay attention!DSC_0472-1

Who’s in charge here, anyway?DSC_0473-1

So, we’re heating the sorghum juice in the cooker.  As the water evaporates and the impurities are removed, the sugar content increases.  The cooker is hottest at the end where the juice enters.  As the sugar content increases, the juice becomes thicker, and moves away from the heat.  When things really get going, there is a distinct color difference from one end of the cooker to the other.

The starting end is only around 17% sugar, has a green color, and looks pretty watery.DSC_0479-1

The finishing end has a sugar content around 80%, is more brown, and has a much thicker consistency.DSC_0478-1

Once it starts looking like this, we check the sugar content periodically.  DSC_0600-1

When the sugar was between 78-83% (it varies a little with the temperature), we drained some of the finished syrup from the end of the cooker (through cheesecloth as another filter).DSC_0533-1

Then into the cooling tank for a little while.DSC_0546-1

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Once the syrup was cooler, it was transferred (again through a cheesecloth filter)… DSC_0569-1

To the bottling tank (and one more filter).DSC_0579-1

And finally, into bottles, ready for use!DSC_0593-1

We wouldn’t let Buddy help.  He played with his ball for a while, and then took a nap.  Lucky dog.DSC_0454-1

The final syrup has a rich, dark brown color.  It is not quite as thick as molasses, and has a rich, slightly smokey, slightly bitter flavor.  WAY yummy.

Sweet sorghum syrup can be used as a syrup (like you would use maple syrup, but in smaller quantities), or in cooking by substituting equal volumes of syrup for sugar.  Next week I’ll post a sorghum syrup cookie recipe!

Interested in sorghum?  Want to learn more or try some?  Check out The National Sweet Sorghum Producers & Processors, or our friends Roy and Linda Boeglin (the stars of this series).  Roy and Linda have sweet sorghum molasses for sale at The Sorghum Barn in Haubstadt, Indiana.  Swing on by or call to order (they’ll ship within the United States):  (812) 768-6176.

This episode starred:  Roy and Linda Boeglin, my hubby John, and Buddy The Dog.

(Roy also can also be seen starring in the saga of the well.)

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