A Sweet Kentucky Tradition

I grew up making sorghum each fall on Kingdom Come Creek in Letcher County, at an event called a stir-off. I honestly loved the stir-off time more than Christmas! We kids would get to ride the sled out to the field (pulled by the big Belgian mare) and watch the men cut the cane with their long knives. It would fall onto the sled in rhythmic “thwaps” and then we’d run back, following the horse to the place where the cane was juiced. Although some used a mule to power the press, ours was fueled by a generator.    

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The juice would run into a big pan, where it would cook all day, and folks would take turns skimming off the foam that ran into the pan. The children were eager tasters, volunteering to dip pieces of the green cane stalk into the cooking juice to “see if it was done”, often burning our tongues in the process. Then, we would practice our pocket knife skills cutting open the stalks to chew the sweet pulp from inside the cane.    

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All the while, the adults would visit, we’d have a big potluck feast, and the kids would run free through the creeks and hills. After dark, my family would make the long drive back to Sandlick Creek, a gallon of sorghum sitting in the floorboard of the car and me with a belly ache and a happy heart. We used the sorghum all winter to make stack cake and gingerbread, but mainly to mash up with butter to make "gravy horse" to put on our biscuits! (I'm pretty sure that's what Appalachia tastes like!)    

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When I met Yani, I kept reminiscing about the stir-offs and how much I missed them, and the next thing I knew he had talked to his dad (who’d learned to stir-off when he lived in Lee County) and they were planting a big crop of sorghum! It’s been a wonderful journey to create this tradition in our own family. I’d love to share a short, amateur video I made of the process. It was filmed in Kentucky on the farm of our patriarch, Nick Vozos, and features a song I wrote about the process.

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