The National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association (NSSPPA) Conference held in Tennessee last week was an event I have wanted to attend for several years and I had anticipated for several months now. An opportunity to meet and visit with other sorghum makers was exciting, because I have never been around other makers other than my parents and family that made it when I was growing up. I am happy to be a new member of this organization and belong to a network of sorghum producers.
I was told before attending that this was a “sweet fellowship” by Executive Secretary, Professor Jim Baier. I understand his comment, as this organization of sorghum makers is made up of a very diverse group of members who share a love of this sweet syrup. There are not only small batch sorghum-makers (like myself) but also very large producers who sell sorghum commercially. There are those that use batch pans, and those that use maze-like continuous flow pans. Then, there are light syrups and dark syrups. Each of these topics is open to debate, but there is respect present for everyones methods and viewpoints. I enjoyed all the discussions from seed selection, growing methods, harvesting techniques, squeezing, pre-heating, skimming, heating methods, cooking, bottling and selling.
One of my favorite events of the conference was the sorghum syrup contest, that I entered. There were 48 entries. To qualify as an entry the sorghum had to measure at least 74 on the refractometer, which measures sugar level. The entries were judged with certain criteria, and ultimately put to a taste test. My entry measured right at 74 percent sugar, which I was pleased about, but suffered in the taste test because it still had some green left in it. I came in 44th, so you can see our syrup has room for improvement! After the judging they brought all the sorghum samples out so that they could be tested by everyone. I had so much fun trying the different sorghums from producers all over (the primary states being Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina). We tasted them and offered encouragement or congratulations.
I think that if you are considering growing, harvesting and processing sorghum, you must realize that this is a personal journey that you are embarking on. There is no paved road here. You can either take the dirt road, the smart little trail through the woods or beat down your own path. All of these are perfectly acceptable depending on your own level of production. You cannot go to Lowe's to buy a mill or evaporator pan. You are making your own sorghum story as you search and find your reclaimed sorghum mill (or fabricate your own) or recycle a sheet of stainless steel that will became your evaporator pan. The ingenuity that was found in the room of sorghum producers was very impressive as I saw pictures of antique mills given new life, and even new mills planned and produced. Evaporator pans were designed according to individual needs, made of copper, steel and some with poplar sides.
In the weeks to come I will continue to break down the process and open our discussion even further so we can make sorghum available and accessible to everyone. Please join me on
our Facebook dicussion group, Sorghum Revival.
A deep respect and admiration is still thick in the air for Professor Morris Bitzer, who passed away two years ago. He was actively involved in sorghum research and his papers are continually referenced.
Photo by Alice Leverich; My dad, Don Leverich, showing a group of 1st graders how to strip the sorghum leaves off in 1982.