Essential off-farm ingredients

Local eating is all well and good, but it has limits. I have no interest in arbitrarily drawing a line around myself and saying “this far but no further”. To us, food sources have a lot to do with the nature of the food. If it’s perishable, seasonal, and can be grown in Missouri, we’re not going to source it anywhere else or at non-seasonal times of year. If it’s unique to another area (olives, maple syrup), inherently stores well (oils, vinegars), is just plain a basic need (salt, spices), or otherwise necessary, we’ll try to get it from the highest quality and most ethical source we can.

We maintain a pretty detailed list of the kitchen items that we consider necessary for good cooking and proper use of all our year-round on-farm ingredients. I thought it might be interesting to share this, and compare to readers’ ideas of what constitutes “must-have” kitchen stocks. Visit the link above, take a look at our list, and post a note with your own priorities, or questions about ours.

2 thoughts on “Essential off-farm ingredients

  1. It caught my eye that you listed both sorghum and molasses. When I was growing up in northern Missouri (not far from some folks who made the stuff), it seemed that the terms were used interchangeably; in fact, perhaps what I heard most often was “sorghum molasses.”After reading a bit on some Internet sites, I have learned that sorghum (or sorghum syrup) is made from sorghum (also referred to as sorghum cane), while molasses comes from sugar cane. I’m wondering now which it was that we were eating when I was a kid–and also what my ancestors produced and used, because I remember that my grandparents sometimes referred to having harvested “cane” when they were young.At any rate, you mentioned getting your molasses from Clover’s and your sorghum from the Root Cellar. Are they locally produced? I think that the best sorghum around comes from Sandhill Farm (a sort of commune east of Kirksville). [They have a web site at sandhillfarm.org.] I buy it at the Hy-Vee store in Kirksville, but I don’t know if it’s distributed in Columbia. The sorghum from Maasdam Sorghum Mills in Lynnville, Iowa, is also pretty darned good.Not long ago, I bought a jar of what was labeled as molasses at a fruit and vegetable stand in O’Fallon. It was from Illinois; the name of the farm was Miller’s, as I remember (I don’t have the jar available as I type this). I’m wondering now if it was actually sorghum. The taste was quite similar.In any case, I find it hard to beat sorghum (or molasses) on freshly baked biscuits along with some country bacon and eggs. I use honey as the sweetener on almost all of the cereal that I eat, but sorghum seems to me to be the best on oatmeal.

  2. Indeed, they are two very different things, though somewhat interchangeable, hence the term “sorghum molasses”. Historically, (sugarcane) molasses was a widely available item shipped in from the Caribbean, whereas sorghum molasses/syrup was a more locally-specific product. You were not likely to find it in, say, Chicago or Boston. Traditionally it was a very common Missouri crop, and the process of harvesting, pressing, and boiling the syrup was a community event much like a hog-sticking. Sorghum making is a lot like maple syrup, in that you need to extract the sap and then boil it down a great deal to get a small amount of very good, very concentrated product. Maple syrup takes about a 40:1 ratio of sap to final product; I’m not sure the exact ratio for sorghum.Though it can be compared to molasses, I feel it also fills the niche of maple syrup in many ways, as a region-specific all-purpose sweetener and flavor. Crappy maple syrup is everywhere now, but the reak stuff is still a regional specialty. I would like to see sorghum reclaim some of its place in Missouri as a source of local flavor and pride.We do indeed use Sandhill’s sorghum. We grow several varieties of sorghum ourselves for a variety of uses, but do not have a sorghum press or the other infrastructure necessary to process the sap. The two main types we grow are broomcorn sorghum, which grows 10-12′ tall with large, solid seedheads which are good for chicken food or, well, brooms. Sweet sorghum is the stuff you make syrup out of, and is more similar to the commodity variety you see grown in larger Missouri farms as a rotational crop, though ours is a heirloom variety more suited to traditional farm use. While we can’t properly extract and use the sap, if you cut a section of it, you can chew on it just like sugarcane and extract a very tasty, sweet juice. Another taste of Missouri that’s almost forgotten. We brought some of this to market last year, and will do so again this year.In any case, you can read more about sorghum and our uses for it in this past from 2008. This also includes some photos that will help.