Tag Archives: sorghum syrup

Sorghum Cake

Because of the research I do, into not only where foods come from but also how they were utilized, I go through a fair number of old cookbooks. Surprisingly, at least once we hit the 1800s in the United States, a lot of the recipes—most of them in fact—look pretty appetizing. By the mid-1800s in the U.S., booming agriculture and increasing transportation options were making a lot of previously rare ingredients available, and home cooks were taking advantage of the variety and abundance.

A recipe for sorghum cake caught my eye when I was combining research with trying to find something to take to a party. I modified the icing from the original, to make it a bit more interesting, but the cake was outstanding without modification. This not too sweet dessert received rave reviews from those to whom I served it.

If you don’t have a nearby store that sells sorghum syrup, it’s readily available on the Internet. If you really can’t locate sorghum, unsulphured molasses could be substituted—but do try to find sorghum, if just to discover what this one-time staple is like.

Sorghum Cake
3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sorghum syrup
1 cup thick, old-fashioned-style applesauce
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (freshly ground makes a big difference here)
1/2 tsp. ground clovers
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the shortening and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Then beat in the sorghum syrup and applesauce.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Then stir into the batter.

The batter can then be poured into greased and floured cake pans. The original recipe called for three, eight-inch round pans, to make layers. For the crowd I was serving, I choose a 13” x 9” sheet cake pan. For layers, bake for twenty minutes, or until done. For a sheet cake, bake for 10 minutes longer, and then test for doneness. Cool before icing.

Icing:
1/4 cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
milk or light cream

The original recipe stopped with those ingredients. I put a tablespoon of rum in the empty sorghum tin and swirled it around, to get the last little bit of syrup, and used that along with the cream to thin the icing. I also added a few grating of fresh nutmeg. Made a mighty tasty icing.

To make the icing, beat the butter until light and then gradually beat in the powdered sugar. This will be about the consistency of modeling clay. Add the liquid (milk, cream, or, like I did, cream plus rummy sorghum syrup remnants) until it becomes the consistency of spreadable icing. If you’re doing layers, you’ll have plenty for the entire cake. If you’re doing a sheet cake, you may have a little extra icing—but that’s never a bad thing.

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Sorghum

If you asked people to name the most important grains in the world, most would readily identify corn, wheat, and rice. However, at least in the U.S., people might not think to mention sorghum, and yet sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world–and the third most important in the U.S.

Sorghum has the great advantage of growing in hot, arid places that are not friendly to other grain crops. For millions of people in Asia and Africa who live in such climates, grain sorghum is a staple food. In these regions, sorghum, along with equally resilient millet, are often the only grains available. It is most commonly ground and made into porridge or breads.

However, not all sorghum is the same. While some sorghum is grown for its grain, sweet sorghum is, like sugarcane, grown primarily for the sweet syrup that can be obtained by crushing its juicy stalks. Sweet sorghum also has grain, but the grains are smaller.

It appears that sorghum was first domesticated in western Africa, in the savannah just south of the Sahara, about 7,000 years ago. Trade and migration took it eastward, and by about 2000 B.C., it spanned the continent. Africa is still a leading grower and consumer of sorghum. There is some debate as to whether the sorghum that appeared later in India and China was introduced or was independently domesticated. However, there is much evidence that India and Africa were trading early on, so introduction is a distinct possibility.

Grain sorghum is also known as milo, and it is grown extensively in areas that are hot and dry, including large swaths of the Great Plains in the U.S. Most grain sorghum in the U.S. is used to feed livestock, though some is used to produce ethanol—and because it’s gluten free, it is also gaining some market share as a cooking grain and flour, as well as for brewing gluten-free beer.
gfd_shiloh_sorghum
Sorghum is not quite as nutritious as corn, but it can be grown where water is limited. The U.S. is now actually the top grower of sorghum in the world, slightly ahead of Nigeria and India, which are tied for second place. (If you’re interested in how widespread sorghum cultivation is, here’s a map that shows where it’s grown: Sorghum Map and Stats) http://archive.gramene.org/species/sorghum/sorghum_maps_and_stats.html

Sweet sorghum is still grown across the American South, where sorghum syrup was once a nearly ubiquitous sweetener. By the mid-1800s, most towns in the south-central region had mills for processing sweet sorghum. Sorghum boils were once as common in the South as “maple syrup boils” were in New England.
oberholtzers-sorghum-molasses
While sorghum syrup was displaced in the early 1900s, when granulated sugar became widely available, it is still being produced. If one lives in the North, sorghum syrup is most likely to be found at specialty shops or places that carry natural sweeteners, such as Whole Foods. It can also be found online. Like molasses, sorghum offers better nutrition than white sugar. Also like molasses, it is less sweet and has a distinctive flavor. Sorghum syrup is slightly less thick than molasses, however. Because of its greater nutritional density, it can spoil. While an unopened tin or jar can last for a considerable time on a shelf, once the container is opened, the sorghum syrup (and molasses, as well) should be refrigerated, and should probably be consumed within a couple of months of being opened.

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