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Muddy Pond Mill Sorghum Syrup
During September and October, in the Mennonite community of Muddy Pond, halfway between Nashville and Knoxville in the upper Cumberland, the malty fragrance of sorghum syrup boiling permeates the air. John and Emma Guenther have been making the syrup with others in the community since the mid 1960s and started their own operation in the early 1980s, which today is also run by their children, with some help from their grandchildren.
Sorghum syrup is extracted and boiled down from the 12-foot-tall stalks of Sorghum vulgare saccharatum, a plant that resembles earless corn. People in the central South — from Pennsylvania to Texas —have made and enjoyed sorghum syrup for nearly 200 years, but the center of the cottage industry is Tennessee.
The smooth, sweet syrup has slight undertones of dried fruit and caramel flavors, and a grassy note.
Use & Care
Drizzle on pancakes, waffles, hot cereals, or ice cream, use in baked goods, or substitute for molasses or honey in recipes.
Production & Design
In the early fall, the Guenthers harvest the sorghum cane with their self-propelled cane-cutting machine, which deheads the cane, cuts it off at the ground, then chops the stalks into short pieces and blows the leaves out. The pieces of cane are dropped into a press that squeezes out the juice and pumps it into a tank that is pulled behind the machine. The tank of juice is taken to the mill and pumped into a holding tank, where it is preheated overnight, and early the next morning the family starts boiling it. The juice is cooked, as per tradition, on a 22 feet-by-8 feet evaporator pan, which is heated by steam produced by a wood-fired, steam locomotive boiler. The finished syrup is then cooled and bottled.