Artifact of the Week — January 11,2024

Posted by on January 11, 2024


Facts about sorghum:

  • Sorghum was first domesticated 8000 BC in Ethiopia and Sudan.
  • The first recorded passage in the United States that mentions sorghum was from the pen of Benjamin Franklin, who mentioned its use in making brooms in 1757.
  • The “sorghum belt” encloses a swath of the United States from Texas to South Dakota, where it enjoys the arid climate.
  • The appropriately-named city of Cane Hill, Arkansas holds an annual Cane Hill Harvest Festival where they squeeze sorghum using a draft horse and an old fashioned press.

The steps to make sorghum seem deceptively simple, although it is rumored you are not good at making sorghum until you are at least 70 years old.

  1. Plant in May.
  2. Harvest in September by lopping off the seed heads and stripping the leaves.
  3. Using a scythe, cut the cane as close to the ground as possible.
  4. Feed the cane into the press 3-5 canes at a time.
  5. Use a draft horse or mules to turn the press.
  6. Catch the green juice as it pours out the other side of the press.
  7. Add the juice to a very large cooking vessel over a perfectly temperate fire.
  8. Cook the entire batch of juice at once since it takes a long time to cook.
  9. Skim the green foam from the surface of the sorghum as it cooks.
  10. When the bubbles turn from green to brown, your sorghum is almost ready.
  11. Sample to see if it is done. It will thicken as it cooks. Be sure it is evenly cooked; raw sorghum will mildew.
  12. Can in a sterile glass jar.
Cooking a sorghum batch
Cooking a sorghum batch

Old Independence Regional Museum has a series of pictures along with a sorghum scythe on display in our “A Taste of Community” exhibit, which we are presenting in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street. Come by and see this exhibit beginning January 23, 2024. We look forward to seeing you at the museum!

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