Growing a Sorghum Syrup Tradition

homesteading, Uncategorized

Growing and pressing sorghum is a fun crop to have in your garden rotation for homegrown sugar. Sorghum stalks are filled with a sugar-rich sap that once pressed out takes just a short bit of boiling to get syrup.

Growing sorghum

Growing sorghum is similar to growing corn. Look for cultivars that specialize in being pressed for sugar over ones that favor its grain production. Direct sow after the last frost in a bed prepared with high fertility with 1/4″ depth. Space similarly to corn with rows 3-4′ and 8″ in row. Overseeding is fine as you can thin as they grow up.

Harvesting

Harvest sorghum when the grains on its seedhead reach soft dough stage. This means that the grain has filled in and no longer exudes a milky ooze when bitten. They should be red colored. This happens usually towards the end of September and early October here in Western Pennsylvania.

To harvest pull all the leaves off in the field, which can be done by hand. Using a pair of snips cut off the seedhead. These can be saved and used as grain and/or seeds for next year. Then cut down the stalk using a machete, sickle, or other method and stack the stalks.

Sorghum stalks are firm but can snap easily. If it happens its not a big deal but it helps to keep in mind where you’re planning to press to minimize moving them around.

Pressing

We’ve tried pressing sorghum a couple of different ways. The first time we tried we used a wooden hand-cranked apple crusher. It was immediately obvious that we were missing out on a lot of juice. A proper pressing mechanism is handy.

A tabletop sugarcane press does a great job. They seem to cost around $100- $250, but can do a lot of sorghum every year.

Get a friend and start cranking. Do a handful of stalks at a time according to how much your machine and cranker can handle. Usually we’ll have one person feed the stalks and the other turn the crank as the juice flows out to a pot below.

Boiling

Sorghum syrup boils down at a 10:1 ratio rather than 60:1 like maple sap. It’s a much quicker process and one I don’t mind doing on my home stove, as it’ll be just a few short hours.

Boiling will make a lot of crud on the top so skim the surface throughout the process. Boiling is done when a the sorghum reaches you desired syrup consistency. If you have a hydrometer, 74 Brix is the level of store-sold syrup. We fill them in mason jars hot and flip upside down for a seal.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Lacto-Fermented Pickles of Any Kind

fermentation, homesteading, Uncategorized, Vegetable Fermentation

The chase is in full swing. Fleeting moments that contain green beans, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, and all the rest are here to either catch or miss. Each jar and crock filled is a thriving moment of anticipation for that winter day when you unlock the memories of summer and you proudly present them to your fellow diners- these are my pickles! In addition to the fantastic name, dilly beans were likely my very first homemade pickle. However, like all recipes, are open to your play and creativity.

For the modest backyard garden that gathers maybe a handful of something every other day or so, setting up a continuous pickling regiment is great. Line up your either mason jars, old peanut butter jars, etc and make them as you go- one little jar at time perhaps. Either way the laid-back nature of lacto-fermented pickles assures you can have the time to make delicious pickles this summer.


Pack as much fresh or dried herb as you can while leaving some room still for the veg. Dill blossoms, green coriander, fresh garlic or scapes, fennel blossom, hot peppers etc. It’s nice to shuve the whole thing, stalks and all, when using fresh herbs.

With whatever remaining leftover room squish in as many cucumbers, beans or whatever veg or veg combo into your jar as you can manage.

I like to eyeball my salt (and maybe return later to taste and adjust) but for the rest a nice middle ground place is 2-3 TBS of salt per a quart. That will hit about the 3.6- 5.2% salinity which is delicious.

Add water to cover everything as best as possible and fasten the lid securely.

Leave it out on counter for 3 days, or until you notice some vigorous bubbling activity. The tell-tale sign will be a bulge in the lid. When that occurs, move to the back of the fridge until you forget and remember again that it’s there some time later in the winter. This quick counter to fridge process ensures the crispest pickle for anyone pickling in some hot weather. The fermentation will crawl along slower but to me sure beats having mush.

Forget about the pickles in the back of fridge for at least a month or two but even better the longer you wait. Also, consider not removing the lid once you get a bulge in it. The reason is, that accumulated Co2 is pushing any oxygen up and away from any plant parts not submerged by the brine thus keeping mold away as if it were submerged. There is also an added bonus of getting some effervescent pickles when you open them!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Pickled & Marinated Preserved Summer Veg

homesteading, Uncategorized

This is quickly becoming a favorite process of ours for preserving summer veg. It’s especially exciting for those who spend their winters pizza-ing through their larder. It works with almost any firm veg and involves a flash boil in pickling brine to pick up on a wonderful pickled bite, then submerging in oil to marinate and preserve until you’re ready to use it. This veg is absolutely delicious and are a wonder to dig out of a jar, already coated in fat to enhance any future meals.


Make a simple pickle brine of 1:1 ratio water to vinegar, and add a teaspoon of salt for every 4 cups of liquid. (The brine amounts depend on how much veg your preserving.) Bring it to a boil.

After cutting your veg to the shape and size of your desires, plop them into the boiling brine for roughly 2-5 minutes. However this time is more dependant on the vegetable you’re using. The goal is to soften it to al dente- softened but still retaining some bite. No worries if it’s not perfect.

In the meantime drop any decorative seasonings into a jar- a clove of garlic, herbs like thyme, oregano, perhaps a sliver of hot pepper.

When the veg is ready, strain it and immediately pack it into the prepared jar. Also immediately, cover it completely to the top with oil, pop on the lid and let it be.

This marinated pickle lasts a couple months in the pantry but can also last quite a lot longer in the fridge.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Freeze Distilling for Apple Jack

alcohol, homesteading, Uncategorized

During those rough stretches of winter when the temperature gets to 0 and below and everyone doubles down inside their homes, we have a rare opportunity where I live in Pennsylvania to not only do a little pond ice skating but to let nature concentrate my brews through freeze distillation. Freeze distilling is in line with all of the great methods of “natural technology” where you really don’t have do anything. All the work is in making your alcoholic beverage as you usually do and letting nature do the rest.