Gift Guide, Day 4

December 4, 2012

A Truly American Taste

It’s becoming harder and harder to find unusual gifts for serious cooks. But here’s one you can be pretty sure even that irritating person who possesses every possible ingredient will not have stashed in the larder: Sorghum Syrup.

I had my first taste of this American classic last winter in Kentucky, and found myself so fascinated I came home laden with jars of the stuff. At first I was just looking for an organic ingredient to replace the nasty corn syrup that goes into recipes like hot fudge and pecan pie, but once I began tasting the syrups made by different producers, I was hooked. True sorghum is an artisanal product with a distinct taste of terroir and it changes enormously from one producer to the next.

Since then I’ve experimented with recipes: it did wonders for the pecan pie at Thanksgiving. Mixed with butter (1/4 cup sorghum syrup blended into a stick of unsalted butter), it makes a spectacular spread for a warm biscuit. Sorghum’s great on pancakes, it makes very fine caramels, and it lends a whole new flavor to coffee or tea.  (If you want to read more, Rona Robert’s book Sweet, Sweet Sorghum is a good source of both information and recipes.)

I'm a fan of the sorghum made by the Holbrook Brothers in West Liberty Kentucky (they make an intriquing orange variation), but you'll have to give them a call as they don’t have a website. Two others I’d recommend are the Townsend Sorghum Mill’s clean, straightforward product, and the exotic vanilla and bourbon laced sorghum from Bourbon Barrel Foods (and while you’re on that website, check out the terrific Bluegrass Soy Sauce).

Americans now make excellent prosciutto, mozzarella and kim chi, and that makes me very proud. But isn’t it time we rediscovered our own native products? This one's  been made in this country since Colonial times.





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  • emmmily says:

    That sounds really good! Gluten free beer often relies on sorghum syrup, do you happen to know if there are any brewers relying on artisanal sorghum syrup to make GF beer? I home brewed some a while back with sorghum syrup I bought through a brewer supply – I bet using products like this would really improve the quality of GF beer (and the price 😉
    Although even the basic sorghum syrup I used made a GF beer much better than the commercial GF beers available.

  • I’ve been doing a lot of research on Sorghum of late, so this is a very timely post for me. I made the Sorghum Chocolate Pecan Pie recipe on the Bourbon Barrel Foods website last weekend and got *raves* at a local holiday party here in Grant County KY (me, the transplanted Yankee, was actually asked for the recipe by the local matriarch, which about made me fall over.)
    I had used the BBF Sorghum, and as I explained this to the various women there, they told me a local store carried “sargum” (as they pronounced it.) I hied myself off to said store after the party to purchase some. Hmm. It was labeled molasses. I asked the store owner (a longtime local legend, with whom I would not want to argue), and he insisted it was “sargum.” So I bought a jar.
    When compared at home with the remnants of the BBF Sorghum there was quite a difference in color. My husband says that may be due to cooking time, and he may be right. But when I called the number on the label of the jar in question, the owner of the farm from which it came was unable to tell me from which sort of cane the syrup came. And yet I know that authentic Sorghum comes from the Sorghum Grass Cane, not from Sugar Cane, as much molasses comes from. So I am suspicious.
    And so I found yet a third source of Sorghum from Taste of Kentucky online, and am going to make several more pies and do a taste test. But I find it interesting that there is this fuzziness around the concept of what the difference is between Sorghum and Molasses. I would imagine those who grow “real” Sorghum would be irritated to have folks passing molasses off as Sorghum. And I would also imagine the taste would be very different. I’ll post here again once I’ve made the pies.
    But for now, it was awesome enough to have Miss Eva ask me for my recipe. It meant that after ten years here in Kentucky, this “girl from Minnesota” had finally arrived.
    Laura Haggarty