Click here to read an earlier post about how to grow and harvest sorghum, including where to find seed.
You can use the cane mill if you have one. Those are hard to come by now if you're just looking to buy one. We heard of one that was sold for $700. The old ones were set up to use a horse or mule to turn the mill which would grind the cane stalks. Now, some of the mills are set-up to run by tractor. So, using a cane mill you would also need a horse or tractor to operate. This is expensive equipment for someone just starting out or just having a "backyard" crop.
Alan and I thought up another way of juicing the cane. It is all-manual but it gets the job done. We found an old "wringer-type" rollers that were used on wringer washing machines and we bolted to a metal stand. Always be aware you are working with a food product and apply food safety rules. We made sure the rollers were sterilized before using. The stalks can be crushed first with a meat tenderizer and then run through the wringers!
This works great. A container is set below the rollers to collect the juice as it comes out. To prepare the cane stalks for juicing, we strip the leaves (which is fed to the goats in small amounts), the seed heads are cut off and put in boxes to be dried later for grinding into flour. We cut the stalks in 2- to 3-foot lengths to make handling easier. Then, run through the wringers.
Here is a short clip of Alan "juicing" sorghum/cane:
If there is a lot of juice coming out we’ll put those through again. It takes approximately 30-40 stalks to get 1 gallon of raw fresh juice. For those that are interested in selling fresh juice to restaurants or other markets there are juicing machines but they are very expensive.
There are a lot of health benefits to the raw fresh juice so this could become a unique crop and market! If you are looking for an Agritourism angle to your farm this could be a possibility.
How to Process Sorghum Juice
After juicing the liquid must be strained. We use a colander and linen or cheese cloth. There is grit that comes out and other debris from the stalks. Refrigerate immediately unless going straight to your market or to be cooked.
This juice is considered “raw” fresh sorghum cane juice. The juice needs to be processed immediately. It will spoil in 7 days. To combat that, you can freeze the juice if not using right away.
Another option is to pasteurize (boil) and can. When working with any food product that is to be sold to the public, make sure you follow all state and county requirements. Each state is different when requiring license and permits. Some states require special equipment if pasteurizing. Most states require a certified kitchen be used. Not all states require this when working with maple sap, sorghum and honey.
Search out markets for your product. Call up restaurants and ask if they would be interested in your product. Specialty (fine dining) restaurants are becoming very competitive and are always looking for something new. We sell the fresh juice for $30.00/gallon.
Making Sorghum Molasses/Syrup
For making molasses, some people call this syrup, we use a wood fire. Our cooking method is very rustic and basic — more or less a pit fire. We don’t make large batches of molasses. We can’t be competitive with the molasses market because there are too many farms in our area that are making them commercially. That’s why we search out other value-added ways to market.
Again, you need about 10 gallons of fresh juice to cook down to about 1 gallon syrup/molasses. Cooking with wood is more economical for us because we save “scrap” wood that falls from dead trees and other branches we can collect. Electric can be used but, it can be expensive if you’re not working up a lot of juice. Equipment can be very expensive unless this is going to be a large venture. One thing you might want to check into is your local Cooperative Extension Agency. They often have Commercial/Certified kitchens with some of this equipment and kitchen time available at a small fee.
We never use propane. The fumes can give an “off” taste to your product.
When starting to cook the juice we use stainless steel stockpots. Always use stainless steel with any cooking. This cooking is a slow process because you want to reach a certain slow boil and keep it continuous. 10 gallons can take 10-12 hours at least of cooking.
Since the sorghum juice is “sugar,” you don’t want a hot, rapid boil it can scortch/burn and cause the molasses to have an “off” taste. The syrup/molasses will begin to thicken and turn a dark color. Be aware some varieties of sorghum will still have a “greenish” hue when it is done. When you think your molasses are ready ladle into sterilized jars.
Using Sorghum Seed Heads
There are several ways to process your sorghum seed heads. As I stated earlier, when removing the seed heads, put in boxes until drying and processing. These seed heads are grain so, care must be taken in making sure they are mature and dry before using. They can be spread out on screens and left to dry in the sun or in covered areas.
They can also be bundled and hung from rafters/beams like hanging corn. After drying the seeds will darken in color — don’t use any that appear “green” if using in making flour.
To use in flour making the seeds must first be thrashed. If you have a grain thrasher that is great. We use the “hand thrashing” method. Very simply, we take the seed heads and hit them over the inside of a container and the seeds loosen and fall into the container.
After you have your loosened seeds put those in a fine sieve — this separates out the chaff and other debris. The “cleaned” seed can now be put into a blender, food processor or mill. Grind to a fine flour. This flour will be gluten-free.
Again, if you are going to sell this product to the public make sure you abide by the food safety, state and county rules and regulations.
You can also take this flour, if you only have a small amount, and use in “Specialty” value-added products such as baked goods. You could market to the needs of “gluten-free” individuals. Also, bakeries would love to buy this specialty, local product. Ideas are limitless!
Don’t want to go the route of making flour? You could sell the seeds to bakeries for them to grind themselves OR sell the seed. In our state we have to carry a “Seed Dealers” license to sell the seed. Also, since this is a grain, if being sold as food you may be required by your state to have it tested for Aflotoxin.
Selling Sorghum Directly from the Field
Want less “hands on” from your specialty crop? That is also an option. Selling from the field.
We have a local brewery, Fonta Flora Brewery, who is determined to use local ingredients and in so doing help the farmers. We are very grateful they have chosen our small farm to work with. They came out to the farm and cut their own sorghum cane to use in their specialty beer. Not only did they use the “cane” juice, but also roasted the seed heads and used some of our Bloody Butcher corn.
They called this mixture "Bloody Butcher Appalachian Grisette."
When selling from the field and in bulk, you can offer your customers a discount on the product. We sell the stalk (with seed head) from the field at 50 cents per stalk.
There’s almost no waste in this product. Since this is in the same family as broomcorn, the “stems” of the seed heads (after thrashing) can be fashioned into brooms OR used as “scrubbers” for your dishes! The spent canes, called "bagasse," can be given to livestock to eat (see video above).
Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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