What is in this article?:
- How sweet it is: Syrup-making a fall ritual for Terry Norwood
- Early-era equipment
- A sellout each year
Follow your nose to a rustic one-room building, its wooden boards darkened with years of smoke from fires hot as the hinges of Hades, where Terry Norwood and his crew are cooking sorghum syrup that, when teamed with real-honest-to-goodness butter and hot homemade biscuits, constitutes what aficionados consider some of the finest breakfast eatin’ on the planet.
THE SWEET SMELL of steam from cooking sorghum syrup surrounds Terry Norwood in the syrup shack on his Mississippi farm.
A sellout each year
In a day, Norwood says, “We can make 50 gallons of syrup. On average, it takes 10 gallons of juice to make one gallon of molasses, but the ratio can vary from 9-to-1 to 11-to-1, depending on how the cooking goes on any given day.
“We use pine slabs for the fire. In the old days, they used willow, and I have used some oak, but pine produces the really white-hot fire we need. The cooked syrup comes off the vats at 235 degrees. It’s strained to remove any tiny bits of cane pulp or impurities that might have made it through the cooking process. After it cools to 150-160 degrees we bottle it.
“This year, we’ll produce about 500 gallons of syrup, which we package in pints, quarts, and 4-lb. jugs. We used to put it up in cans, but because of food safety regulations, we now put it in space-age plastic jugs with tamper-proof inner seals.
“We sell out of everything we produce each year. A lot of people will come out here when they know we’re cooking and bottling, and a lot stop by on their way to or from Ole Miss home football games. We put signs out on Hwy. 30, just a mile away. We also ship quite a bit to customers around the U.S. and to overseas destinations — I’ve shipped it as far away as Australia.”
Sorghum syrup, in addition to being tasty, is an all-natural, nutritious treat, Norwood says. “It contains iron, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus — all beneficial nutrients.”
His farm is located at Etta on County Route 355, between New Albany and Oxford, Miss. The community, in earlier days, was known as Rocky Ford, a name still used by many of the locals, and the name he uses for his syrup.
“Last year, the Tupelo, Miss., newspaper ran an article and photos about us, and the next morning there were cars lined up in the driveway wanting to buy syrup,” he says.
Although he grew up around syrup-making, Norwood says he didn’t really get involved in it personally until a high school teaching stint at Ingomar, Miss. “My FFA kids had some sorghum projects, and we cooked some syrup.” He laughs, “They weren’t as enthusiastic about it as I was. I bought some equipment and built my cooking shack.
“A guy I knew, David Crawford, taught me a lot about the nuts and bolts of the process. I started making it on my own in 1980, and there hasn’t been a year since that I haven’t done it.”
After his teaching stint, Norwood racked up a lot of miles as a long-distance trucker, hauling U.S. mail over much of the eastern U.S., and for the past 21 years has been a regional manager/commodity coordinator for the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.
He is a member of the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association, which he says has more than 500 members in the U.S. and several foreign countries.
Syrup making has, over the years, also been something of a social event at his farm, Norwood says, with people dropping in to watch and talk. “Some of the biggest tales you’d ever hear have been told by folks sitting around under the trees while syrup is being cooked,” he says.