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Liquid Gold – Additional Photos

More photos of the Norwood family's sweet sorghum syrup.

Landscapes Winter 2013

See related article:

"Liquid Gold"

Terry and Deb Norwood

When the days get shorter and the leaves begin to turn, that's when you're likely to find Terry and Deb Norwood producing sweet sorghum syrup at their north Mississippi farm.

Photos by Debra Ferguson/Southern Images

Field of sorghum

A member of the grass family, sweet sorghum produces a juice that can be cooked down to syrup with a flavor similar to molasses.

Terry Norwood scrutinizes a plant.

Around Labor Day, Terry Norwood begins checking the sorghum's sugar content, either with a refractometer or the old-fashioned way: "I was taught to watch the seed heads. When you can mash the seed and it looks like dough, the sugar is about at its peak in that stalk. That's when we've got to be ready to roll."

Terry drives a tractor

Terry has an affinity for antique machinery and labor-saving modern methods, and starts the harvest by deheading the tall canes with a sickle mower mounted on an adjustable hydraulic lift. M81E is a tall sorghum variety grown for its sweet juice rather than its grain

Antique corn binder

Next Terry cuts the sorghum with an antique corn binder, which automatically ties it into easy-to-handle bundles.

Cane mill to crush the sorghum

Terry brings a century-old cane mill to the field to crush the sorghum, then transports the juice back to his production area. He chills the juice in a refrigerated milk tank until he has a day off to cook.

Terry feeds the firebox at the cooking shed

Back at the cooking shed, Terry feeds the firebox with pine slabs.

Cool-looking fire in a brick channel

A brick channel runs under the 12-foot-long cooking pan, heating the juice to a boil. "It draws the flame all the way from the firebox to the other end of the pan," Terry says. "You can see the fire shooting by, and hear it roaring through the chimney."

A fan draws the steam off the boiling sorghum juice

The Norwoods' streamlined harvest process saves countless hours, but one thing you can't rush is the cooking. It takes about six hours to cook one batch of sweet sorghum syrup, a process the Norwoods repeat from Labor Day to first frost. Fans draw the steam off the boiling juice.

Terry cooks down the sorghum

Sweet sorghum syrup enters the long pan as fresh green juice and exits after it cooks down to a rich amber liquid. "It's a continuous flow," Terry says. "What you're doing is pan management. You're never letting more in than you can cook at a time."

Sorghum pours from a spout into a bucket

Still boiling, some of the syrup is almost ready for bottling.

Straining and cooling the hot syrup

Terry strains and cools the hot syrup. "The longer it cooks, the darker it gets," he says. "That bright syrup is beautiful. The only way to keep it like that is to cool it."

Pouring syrup into a jug

The Norwoods bottle and sell their sweet sorghum syrup under the Rockyford Sorghum Mill label.

Honey Sorghum sign

Photos by Debra Ferguson/Southern Images

See related article:

"Liquid Gold"

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