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Sorghum syrup making in the fall a long-standing Fouts family tradition

sorghum juice
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Deena Bouknight

The Fouts and their extended family members have for generations been growing sorghum for the purpose of making sorghum syrup. Various ages tend and harvest the crop of the tall 8-10-foot sorghum cane stalks and then spend a day each fall gathering from dawn to dusk to process the thick, brown, sticky, sweet syrup from the plants. The process generally involves hours of pressing the juice out of the cane and then cooking it so that the water evaporates and leaves the edible syrup.

“I love sorghum (syrup) …,” said Sharon Taylor. “When I was growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to have both cornbread and biscuits with our supper. We’d eat cornbread with our main food and biscuits for dessert with syrup and butter. My father, Merritt Fouts, said there was only one way to eat syrup and butter: Stir it up together and spoon it onto a hot biscuit. That combination is still as good as any dessert I’ve ever had.”

She added, “The [sorghum] syrup is delicious, but having it is far secondary to the sense of belonging and groundedness that joining together as a family brings. “The Fouts Family Syrup Book” includes “a collection of stories, photographs, and recipes” that convey the process and tradition of sorghum syrup making. Recipes include Syrup Taffy.

Sorghum cane juice is gravity fed into a vat, where it waits until it is ready to flow into a long-brick furnace to heat up for many hours. Impurities are eventually skimmed off of the juice, and what is left after the water evaporates is sorghum syrup, ready for a hot biscuit or to be made into Syrup Taffy.

1 cup sorghum syrup (found at local produce stands)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup warm water
3 Tbls. vinegar
3 Tbls. butter

Put butter, sugar, water, and vinegar into a saucepan and stir. Boil until very brittle when dropped into cold water. Add butter to mixture, remove from stove and pour onto buttered plate. When cool enough to handle, butter hands and pull until light brown. Pull into oblong strips and cut with scissors. Place on plate until it hardens.