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Sorghum & The Albino Love Machine.

Sorghum & The Albino Love Machine.

12113336_10206311819928074_3914472433692793967_oI’m obsessed with sorghum. Like I don’t know how I’ve lived my life without ever eating it or knowing how it’s made or hell, even knowing what it is exactly. But after reading Ronni Lundy’s Sorghum Savor in preparation for her podcast interview a few weeks ago, I’m officially obsessed. I wake up in the morning and without fail, put two teaspoons in my coffee. I even packed a jar to liven up the crappy hotel room coffee on a recent trip. In the afternoon if I’m craving something sweet I’ll toast up some bread or make biscuits and slather it with Gravy Horse which is basically softened butter mixed with sorghum. Sorghum butter. Which makes maple butter or honey butter or any other kind of butter taste inferior. I even made a Mocha Sorghum Shoofly Pie from Ronni’s book, and while it didn’t turn out pretty, it sure tasted so.

Why am I so obsessed? Because sorghum has that ever-elusive umami. That mushroom-y earthy quality that brings out every other flavor on the tongue and makes them jump, dance, and shout. It makes the sweet sweeter without making your cavities sing, it smooths out the bitter, adds edge to the salt and lengthens the sour. I just love it. I keep kicking myself because I’ve had 3 jars of the stuff sitting on my pantry shelf for 5 years because every Fall my CSA provides one. I may have even given one away, dumbass me. In the past I’d just take the jar and store it, thinking I’d somehow use it if I ever got the nerve to taste it. Now I can’t get enough. One jar down and two to go before I start scrambling around like a junkie with the shakes looking for more.

Sorghum isn’t molasses, although the origin is so foreign to folks often you’ll see Sorghum Molasses on the jar just so cooks have a point of reference. Molasses is the byproduct of forming sugar, what is left over after crystallization. If you boil it enough you get blackstrap, so bitter it’s still considered by some medicinal only. Sorghum is its own plant, a grain, and its sap it boiled gently until it reaches a caramel color or a deep mahogany brown, depending on where its grown. Like fine wine, sorghum has its own terroir in taste and appearance. And unlike molasses or honey the viscosity is such it will dissolve even in cold coffee.

The flavor? That umami can heighten anything it touches. Add it to marinades, cocktails, anything you’d use molasses or corn syrup or honey as an ingredient. It’s gentler on the tongue, less bitter, and just tastes worlds better. Thank God for Ronni’s book or I’d still be stockpiling sorghum instead of tearing through it. Yes, it gives me life!

Sorghum is a staple of Appalachian cuisine and my guest on Friday is an avid spokesman for its cuisine and region. Chef Travis Milton grew up in southwest Virginia and early on during his cooking career realized he wanted to bring that food’s sensibility to the wide world. Mostly vegetables. Unfancy, comforting tastes and flavors. And everything grown from heritage seeds which translates into all the food on your plate tasting just a bit better than it would.

It’s a story I’ve heard often in my travels. A chef works many jobs before realizing the kitchen is home. Travis traveled this path including a stint as a DJ where his handle was The Albino Love Machine. But while repairing race cars and teaching kids, he realized his true calling. And we reap the benefits. His Appalachian restaurant Shovel and Pick opens in Richmond Spring 2016, but you can hear him talk about his advocacy work and love for Appalachia Friday on the podcast. Can’t wait until then? Here’s an excellent article by Style Weekly’s Brandon Fox to tide you over. Cheers!

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