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Blackberries and Sorghum Syrup: Southerners Have Sworn by These Foods For Many Years

Updated on July 6, 2017
kenneth avery profile image

Kenneth is a natural-born southerner and grew up his entire life in the south where he has resided now for 63 years in Hamilton, Al.,

Making syrup in early South.
Making syrup in early South. | Source
A team of mules turning the syrup press that squeezes the sweet liquid from sugar cane.
A team of mules turning the syrup press that squeezes the sweet liquid from sugar cane. | Source

Be Forewarned About

this hub. Not that this piece is about some torrid secret about pornography. Nor is this story about politics, drug pushing, or even going to church. This hub is founded by one of the South's oldest "industries," by moonshining which is still debated if "shine" can be considered a legal business. This piece is all about making sorghum syrup. The product, truth be told, is much sweeter than the labor that goes into the making of this Southern nectar enjoyed by everyone who has awoke in the morning by the aroma of coffee brewing, bacon sizzling, and cathead biscuits about to be served with sorghum syrup.

This is about the true hard labor that produces sorghum syrup. Hardly any complex technical machinery was or is ever used in the sorghum business. The bottom line truth is that in most sorghum operations, a mule or two is hitched to a long wooden pole and the mule is told to walk around and around the cane press that crushes out the sweet sugary liquid from the sugar cane that is fed into this device that now runs into a series of pans where this sweet liquid is set to boiling to just the right texture and then every ounce of this loving commodity is poured to jars, cooled, and then capped tight and sold.

Making sorghum is one of the toughest jobs a person in the Great Depression could have.
Making sorghum is one of the toughest jobs a person in the Great Depression could have. | Source
Workers feed the sugar cane into the press so the sugary liquid can be extracted from the cane.
Workers feed the sugar cane into the press so the sugary liquid can be extracted from the cane. | Source
The making of sorghum was sometimes a family affair.
The making of sorghum was sometimes a family affair. | Source

The Origin of Sorghum States

that sweet sorghum was widely grown in the United States since the 1850s primarily in the form of sorghum syrup. In the early 1900s, America produced 20 million U.S. gallons of sweet sorghum syrup yearly. Making syrup from sorghum is heavily labor-intensive. Following World War II, with the lower availability of farm labor, sorghum syrup production fell drastically. Currently, less than 1 million U.S. gallons are produced yearly in the United States.

The states (currently) where the abundance of sorghum grown for syrup production is in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, to name a few.

The production of sorghum syrup holds no compassion for those who do not like to work in order to get something good to eat. A typical day in the life of a sorghum worker starts around 5 a.m., even when the sugar cane is grown. A certain amount of tending to the area where the cane has grown is key to having a good cane crop--with little or no weeds to compete with the cane in early stages of growth.

A handful of patient workers equipped with machetes start the hot, arduous task of cutting the sugar cane to transport it either by wagon, cart, or truck (if one is available) to deliver the sugar cane to the mill for the cane to be crushed by a "press" where two heavy metal wheels push the cane through as the wheels extract every single ounce of the sweet sugary liquid that is key to making sorghum syrup.

The sugary liquid is now in aluminum pans ready to be boiled until it turns into a sticky sorghum syrup while mill workers are constantly stirring the sorghum just long enough to get the liquid to that near-perfect texture until it can be called sorghum syrup now ready for pouring into the jars and cooled.

Most sorghum field owners have a list of clients where the sorghum is delivered and then sold to the many who love the taste of sorghum especially while applied on breakfast tables with hot biscuits in an early breakfast meal. There is hardly anyone who does not like sorghum syrup.

Besides sorghum, another form of sorghum is "Blackstrap Molasses," which is the dark, viscous molasses that remains after maximum extraction of sugar from raw sugar cane. It has the consistency of a thick syrup, as the third boiling of sugar syrup yields blackstrap molasses. This concentrated byproduct is left over after the sugar's sucrose has been crystallized. Blackstrap is also considered a sweet treat to be consumed on biscuits and some backyard chefs even mix Blackstrap with other mixings to baste on ribs and ham.

Honestly, there is absolutely no wrong way to eat sorghum syrup or Blackstrap molasses. Hardly no one ever, (after their first taste) turns down these heavenly condiments.

Mule power making sorghum syrup.
Mule power making sorghum syrup. | Source
Two generations picking blackberries.
Two generations picking blackberries. | Source

The History of

sorghum syrup was not the only food item that came from The Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression began to take its toll. People in the South were a resilient folk who took to not only working at available sorghum mills to barter labor for sorghum, but picking blackberries, plums, and blueberries.

This was also not a glamorous way to achieve food staples. Much like producing sorghum, a family would seek out nearby woodlands and even creek banks to find those delicous blackberries that could be eaten by themselves or put into cakes and muffins if the ingredients were available.

Gathering (or picking) blackberries is not just a hot and tedious work, but dangerous as well. With the blessing of blackberry patches come two dangers: painful briars and the great possibility of snakes which some are posionous such as rattlers, cotton mouth and copperheads. Some people, not really looking closely, have been know to die from snake bites while picking the berries. But taking the risk of getting something to eat over shadowed the dangers of snakes.

Blackberries along with sorghum syrup were only two of the things people (in olden times) referred to as "Survival Foods," and if anyone has ever experienced one of both of the retrieving these tasty morsels, these people know full well what this term means.

Blackberries ripe and ripening--black indicates ready to pick and red not ready to pick.
Blackberries ripe and ripening--black indicates ready to pick and red not ready to pick. | Source

© 2017 Kenneth Avery

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    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 2 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

      Well, I love blackberries, but I've never heard of sorghum syrup before. Your article was really interesting to read.

    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 2 weeks ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      Making lasses!! love them with stirred i country butter and a hot cathead biscuit or two. Country ham if available and red eye gravy!

      I have a friend who holds an event each year called Cane Fest where they make molasses or cane syrup as you call it. Big doings and the process has gotten to be a science, checking the starch content while the juice boils with some kind of instrument he holds up to the light. He always had a huge pot of dried beans and boils peanuts which he has also grown. In the afternoon he has an old time/bluegrass event where musicians come and pick till late in the evening. There are always lots of yellow jackets!!!

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 2 weeks ago from USA

      I lived around fields of sorghum, and mom used to spoon feed us Blackstrap Molasses before leaving for school. I've gotten over that daily ritual and simply eat blackberries almost daily.

    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 2 weeks ago from Washington DC

      Yes, Keneth, my daddy made syrup during the 4 years with my mother after my birth. We grew cane and pressed our syrup except we put ours in cans for selling. What I don't remember is which one we made, Sorghum or Blackstrap. Maybe it was both with biscuits, our own produced bacon and our own yard chicken eggs to make our breakfast feast.

      Even after their separating we five children picked Blackberries, Dewberries and Plums to make preserves and pies. Now, as the nomad, that knowledge and the fact that I ate almost every plant in our garden without cooking was my salvation, I didn't have to depend on money unless in cities. I have eaten so many different berries, some very bitter ones even. I discovered while walking the highways that people don't mind you entering their gardens and fruit trees so long as you only get what they view as a meal.

      That is the difference in country and city folks, country folks know food grows for them and others alike while city folks, it seems like, don't even know food grows. I suppose it is the farmer's life which makes them allow wayfarers to eat from their gardens and field.

      Short and sweet well done piece.

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