The Sweet Life at Muddy Pond Sorghum in Tennessee & a Recipe for the Best Sorghum Cookies
As you enter the mill, the air is filled with the steam from the sorghum making process; at times, it’s so thick, you can barely see across the room. The machinery has a Rube Goldberg appearance as the sorghum juice spews out one end, cascades through a trough, under a gate, through another trough, into a bucket, and pumped to a slide where it’s captured in a bottle.
Several generations of families from the community take part in the making of the sorghum syrup. From the oldest, managing the temperature, flow, and skimming of chlorophyll from the hot cane syrup to the teenagers stoking the fire of the boiler, to the youngest members filling the bottles with the warm syrup. They all take turns and rotate responsibilities. There is a sense of community and purpose.
Sorghum has garnered much attention over the past several years as chefs have sought out local, heirloom, and artisanal ingredients. Dishes are no longer described in simple terms, but rather with a list that proudly states where the ingredient was raised, grown, or produced. As Southern food has become widely popular, sorghum has also become an integral ingredient in recipes across America.
The sweet taste of sorghum is lighter and milder than molasses and a healthier choice than corn syrup. It is high in antioxidants, calcium, and potassium, and it is excellent in baked goods as well as savory dishes.
The Guenther family is preserving a product that is important to our American past. Recently, Muddy Pond Sorghum was named one of eleven culinary artisans to be the recipient of the President’s American Treasures Award and was honored at a ceremony at the White House in July. It is truly one of the highest honors for an individual or small producer “in recognition of a singular and significant contribution to our Nation that both preserves and fosters a unique All American craft and tradition.” They are also three-time Grand Champions in the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association’s Sorghum Syrup Contest.
What a contrast it must have been after being at Muddy Pond, and then returning to the furor of business that is Atlanta! Thanks for sharing your experience, Gwen!
I have not purchased their sorghum before, but I will look for it, now, next time I’m at Whole Foods.
Yes, Atlanta seemed rather frantic after being in such a peaceful environment for a day. It really was an exceptional experience.
I only buy Muddy Pond, am member of SFA, and attend events at Blackberry Farm, as we also have property near Walland, Tennessee. A wonderful post on a special family and their business.
A wonderful article. Such an, “insider”, view of the crop and processing. We will certainly be trying to get our hands on some Muddy Pond, Sorghum. Such an important and old grain. I think it sounds good for a meat bbq sauce or glaze as you suggest. A lovely look at Muddy Pond and its families.
I am so glad to see the Guenther family getting recognition for their hard work, producing such delicious sorghum. I’ve never met a harder working family than the Guenthers! Their sorghum is wonderful in so many recipes, that it’s hard to decide which is my favorite!
Mark kindly took time out of his busy day to give me a tour of the Muddy Pond Sweet Sorghum fields and processing area a couple of years ago when I came to America for a conference.
What a delightful experience.
Mark has to be one of the nicest people on all of Planet Earth and the sweet sorghum syrup they make at Muddy Ponds is every bit as wonderful as Mark’s good nature. If everyone in the world would learn to live like the folks at Muddy Ponds, the world would be a FAR better place!
Thank you Mark and everyone at Muddy Ponds. I only wish we were able to get more of you sweet sorghum here in Australia.
Keep up the great work folks. Think of you often and fondly!
So nice of the family to share a part of them with all of us. Muddy Pond sounds like a wonderful place to be. I will definitely order some of their product and make these cookies.
I’ll have to see if our local markets carry their sorghum here in Knox, Three Rivers might. Southern Living just did a piece on sorghum this month and I was wanting to make the sorghum beef ribs in my smoker this weekend.
Excellent post, I enjoyed the read.
I loved this post Gwen. So touching and so very interesting. I have not seen their sorghum, but I will now seek it out at Whole Foods as I would like to incorporate this into some of my products. Especially interested in a Sorghum sweetened jam 🙂 Your photos really captured the heart and feel of your visit.
Gwen, this is utterly fascinating! As you say, many of us don’t know how sorghum is made, or really know much about it at all, but what I find so interesting is the whole way of life of this family and community business. Which is so much more than just a business. You were so lucky to be able to go, discover and spend time at Muddy Pond.
I’ve seen sorghum on labels but thought it was some kind of chemical additive. I’m please to know it’s a natural sweetener. I had no idea. Thanks for the education and great storytelling.
Beautifully done – Bravo, Gwen! I just went back in time…and I wish I could move there and live simply (with my tooth, I just might fit right in..lol JK!), making sorghum – no SEO..no meanies..just a simple life. Loved the video, and as usual, the photos make me feel as if I was there too. When I was in NC around the age of 13, I had a biscuit with butter and sorghum. I will never forget how amazing it was. Maybe I can recreate it with Mark and Sherry’s sorghum, soon!
So beautiful, Gwen. Thank you for sharing this special family and what they do with all of us!!
love this article,
My family is from Muddy Pond, and I know they’re proud to see it’s much like it was when they were growing up.
A group of people still willing to come together as a community.
Lets hope it stays this way forever!
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I just made the cookies you describe above using sorghum I harvested and processed this year (my first time ever!) Thanks so much for a nice article and a great recipe!
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I missed seeing you at The Museum of Appalachia this year. I always buy my sorghum there.
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This farm belonged to my grandparents. My mom grew up in the original farm house, that I am sure has been torn own by now. My brother visited the farm back in the 70’s. I am so glad to know that the farm has prospered and made a good living for these people.
PS. My mom was a Phillips, not sure if my grandfather sold them farm or his daughter’s family, the Englands
Blessings to all ~ I am ordering a jug of sorghum today!!.
I have really enjoyed this article! We just moved to west Tennessee (from WV) two years ago. One of our young ladies from church is getting married and is having cookies at the reception. She asked me to make ginger spice cookies, which I had never made. Since the recipes called for molasses (and I did not have any), I searched to see if I could use sorghum…a man from church had given me some. When I found out I could, I started searching for recipes using sorghum and found this recipe, Best Sorghum Cookies. I was so excited to find it! My father is from Crossville, TN…I am not sure where that is in relation to your location, but I thought nearby. I was raised in northern OH, but when our family returned to Crossville to visit grandparents, my dad always brought home sorghum. I made this cookie, and it is perfect! I wish my dad were here to taste them!! Thank you for article and recipe! I hope to visit sometime!
Thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad you found the article and recipe and enjoyed the cookies. They are delicious.
We live in Atlanta, but Muddy Pond Sorghum is located about 23 miles from Crossville. If you are in the area during sorghum making season, it would be worth a visit to meet the Guenther’s, see the sorghum making process, and buy a jug of sorghum while you’re there. 🙂
I enjoyed the read on Muddy Pond Sorghum. I just made the sorghum cookies and they are chewy delicious cookies. I absolutely loved cooking with an ingredient new to me (sorghum) and learning some history behind it. Recommend others trying the recipe out.
I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe and the story of Muddy Pond sorghum. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.