The Sweet Life at Muddy Pond Sorghum in Tennessee & a Recipe for the Best Sorghum Cookies
Muddy Pond Sorghum is one of just a handful of mills in the United States that make sorghum on this scale. They are hoping to produce 10,000 gallons this year. The mill operates three days a week in September and October and during that time they will process one acre of cane per day. During each eight or nine-hour day at the mill, they will boil down 2,400 gallons of juice (from that one acre of cane) to make between 250 to 275 gallons of sorghum syrup.
Muddy Pond Mill is not just a functioning business, it is also a gathering place for the community. Sherry told us that, “Older people come and sit all day and watch. They love to see it made and it brings back memories. It means a lot to them.” Sherry added, “The younger people have no idea what it really is and they come and learn about it.”
By midday, the entire family stops whatever they are doing and come in from the farms and fields to sit down and enjoy supper together. They congregate at the mill where the tables are set. The women arrive with steaming pans and bowls of food. Work at the mill stops and the Guenthers excuse themselves for this time of fellowship. In the background, the younger women sing hymns before blessing the meal. We stopped what we were doing out of respect for this family’s daily tradition.
We traveled to the foothills of Middle Tennessee to learn about the process of making sorghum. Instead, we learned about a way of life focused on simplicity and family. From the moment we turned onto Muddy Pond Road, life changed. It became less complicated. A people with a strong work ethic, a common purpose, shared religious beliefs, and a genuine sense of community made everything else outside of this world seem not quite so important.
When it was time to leave, we drove back down Muddy Pond Road. We passed young women in traditional Mennonite dress mowing the lawn, men on tractors tending to the fields, and stopped at a general store for a taste of sorghum ice cream. We turned off Muddy Pond Road and made our way back to Atlanta.
As we left “the community” and returned to our fast paced life with traffic, concrete, congestion, and tempers, we wondered which world is real. The folks at Muddy Pond are happy and self-sufficient. They work hard together and stay together. They take the time to share with others and enjoy life. A trip back in time is a good reminder for all of us about what the focus of our own lives should be.
We appreciate the time that Mark and Sherry spent with us during their very busy day at the mill. It was a real pleasure to meet them along with Mark’s dad, John and brother, Ed. We learned so much more than just how to make sorghum.
Of course, we purchased a fresh jar of sorghum, several baked goods, and a cookbook during our visit to the mill. Sherry suggested several recipes from the book and I chose to make the cookies that we snacked on during the drive home. The recipe is for the Best Sorghum Cookies and it was right. Perfectly spiced and naturally sweetened, these chewy cookies are filled with the flavors of fall. You will not be able to eat just one.
Muddy Pond Sorghum is available in some Whole Foods Markets, at the Muddy Pond Mill, and at Guenther’s Variety Store in Muddy Pond. You can also order the product online from the Guenthers.
If you need a few other ideas for using sorghum, this sorghum butter from last November is fabulous on biscuits and we also mixed it with fresh herbs, basted, and smoked a chicken with it. The meat was incredibly juicy and tender and the flavor outstanding. Roasted Delicata Squash is a favorite side dish recipe of ours that is also made with sorghum butter.
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Best Sorghum Cookies
These cookies are soft and chewy. Be sure not to overbake. They also freeze well.
1/2 cup margarine (I used unsalted butter)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sorghum
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream margarine (or butter), shortening, and sugar. Beat in sorghum and eggs; set mixture aside.
3. In an another large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Blend thoroughly with wire whisk.
4. Gradually mix flour mixture into creamed ingredients until dough is blended and smooth.
5. Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Dip tops in granulated sugar; place 2 1/2-inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool on wire rack.
Store in tightly covered container to maintain softness.
Recipe courtesy of the Sorghum Treasures Cookbook
The National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association
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.