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Sweet Sorghum Syrup with Frances Olson

December 21, 2017

Unfamiliar with sorghum? According to SorghumCheckOff, the provenance of sorghum dates back to 8000 B.C. near the Egytian-Sudanese border in Northeastern Africa. From Africa, it spread to India, China, Australia and eventually to the United States where it was first referenced by Ben Franklin in 1757.

Three main sorghum varieties include grain sorghum, forage sorghum and sweet sorghum. Grain sorghum is a very popular crop grown with numerous varietals grown for food while forage sorghum mainly used for livestock silage.

Frances Olson’s family grew sweet sorghum, a variety pressed for its stalks’ juice and processed into syrup. The syrup was used as a sweetener and especially popular when sugar prices were high during the Civil War, Depression and in times of drought as the crop was particularly drought tolerant.

A labor-intensive process, competitive sugar prices and relatively small yield rates (100 gallons of juice to 1 gallon of syrup compared to sugar maple’s 40 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup) have led to a decline in its popularity. However, a small number of farmers continue the tradition making it possible for Olson and younger generations to taste a bit of the past and perhaps imagine new recipes and uses for it in years to come.

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