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Country Rock Sorghum Cooking 2015

Randal Rock, chief sorghum-chef at Country Rock Sorghum in Woodford County, Kentucky, says three things determine sorghum quality—and none of them is cooking.

Cooking Country Rock sorghum in Woodford County, Kentucky

Cooking Country Rock sorghum in Woodford County, Kentucky

Like anyone else who visits the intense work and focus that surrounds cooking pressed sorghum cane juice into syrup, I think of cooking as central. I'm wrong about that. Randal says these are the keys:

  • Location: what is in the ground, the soil? What was planted there in past years?
  • How is the cane handled in the field, including its seedheads and leaves? How is it cut and moved? The cleaner the cane, the better.
  • ..........Maybe variety.

Just as apples grow in varieties like Cortland, Mutsu, Granny Smith, and Stayman Winesap, sorghum growers can choose among dozens of varieties with names like Dale, Della, Honey Drip, Tracy, Sugar Drip, M81E, 1810, KN-Morris, Rio, Orange, and many more. The music of sorghum varietal names, and the mystery of varietal differences, fascinated me even before I wrote Sweet, Sweet Sorghum.

Below, two different sorghum varieties Country Rock produced this year: Dale, on the left, and Umbrella on the right. But Randal Rock, who is a soil scientist, says the strong visual differences, matched to some degree by differences in taste and texture, come more from properties of the soil where the cane grew than from differences in the varieties themselves. Country Rock keeps a notebook filled with notes on each planting, each variety, each cooking, and each result since they first began making sorghum.

Here's a short video [link here] from October 9, when Country Rock cooked M81E, using gas heat. Don't try to steal trade secrets by reading that notebook! I fuzzed it over a bit, much as the cooking shed is naturally foggy from the evaporation of the cane juice over high heat.


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