Southerners living above the Mason-Dixon line have a lot to cope with. First of all, nobody will stop asking us if it's hard to be like, a progressive from the South. Ace Hardware on 14th only has DIET Cheerwine in the fridge,* for some unfathomable reason. I CANNOT. FIND. SIXLETS.* Also, we struggle with this sick, mafia-like mindset that's really hard to shake. You know how the mafia is like, I can smack the shit out of my sister, but if her boyfriend does it, it's all "leave the gun, take the cannolis"? We struggle with the same schizophrenic mental attitude where I can make jokes about rednecks and NASCAR, but I will absolutely beat your ass if you do, ya damn Yankee. (See?)
But by far and away, the toughest part about the whole expatriated-Southerner experience is coping with fake Southern restaurants. Oh, you made bad cornbread? Congratulations. You serve fried chicken? Good job watching "Hart of Dixie" one time. (I admit it, I'm a purist and a Grade-A snob and I do not apologize. WHERE ARE THE PEANUTS, I WILL PUT THEM IN MY CO-COLA NOW.)
Thankfully, this is one arena where the hipsters and the foodies have achieved something that doesn't make me groan at the same time that I'm shoveling it into my face and blogging about it. The determination to resuscitate traditional Southern food in unique ways is an absolute boon to those of us whose grandmothers made butter-sugar sandwiches when we were kids. Butter-sugar sandwiches, represent. On white bread, bitches. Gluten. Forevah.
Anyway, the best part of this resuscitation is the revival of one of my favorite grains: Sorghum. Modern Farmer called it the new "it" grain, a moniker which I will try not to resent as a little johnny-come-lately, but the point being, this stuff is about to be as cool as cacoa nibs were a hot minute ago, and you should know some stuff about it.
* They do have Ale-8, which while not strictly Southern, is still a sweetly familiar reminder of rural life. Go Cats.
* Admittedly, originally a Hershey product, but one often found in rural-route gas stations during my childhood.
Wait, WTF, sorghum is a grain.
Yes, and despite what I said up there about gluten forever, sorghum is naturally gluten-free, eliciting maybe the best correction that the New York Times has ever run with the exception of that one about what constitutes a "selfie":
Demand for sorghum has been on the rise as an animal feed—it's an alternative to corn for pig feed—but this stuff can also be milled into flour for human consumption. Most of the food-market sorghum comes from Georgia, Kansas and Texas, or so the managing director of the Virginia Grain Producers Association tells me.
It's tough to find—you can order it online here—and apparently kind of hard to digest as a grain. But if you're the adventurous gluten-free type, here are a few recipes to get you started. (Literally, I take no responsibility for what happens to you after you eat these, you're on your own.)
So how CAN I eat it.
As a syrup, you unutterable moron. I know I’m urban as ffffuuuccckkkk these days, but this is a story about a Southern food, stay focused. Why the hell would you eat gluten-free grains when you could eat MOLASSES.
Growing sorghum for molasses is one of those old-school Southern things, like an RC Cola and a Moon Pie, that really gives me a hard-on. Traditionally, one eats it drizzled over a buttery biscuit for breakfast, if one does not care about one’s diet, which this one does not when there are biscuits to be had.
Before you ask, this is not the same thing as the pig-food sorghum. Molasses sorghum varieties are different from the grain varieties in that they are much taller with a more substantial stalk—basically the focus is less on grain mass and more on height. Farmers crush the stalks into a syrup, then boil and reduce it, similar to making maple syrup. And my sweet lil' sugar-monsters, this shit is where it is AT.
What does it taste like.
Spicy, nutty rainbows. An incandescent drizzle of everything that's good about the South, including but not limited to the city of Charleston, Walton Goggins' adorable Instagram feed and biscuits (the vehicle upon which you should eat said molasses). Local sous chef Katie Haughey says that folks have told her it tastes like a co-cola reduction. I'm not sure if this isn't damning sorghum molasses with faint praise (and who are these weirdos who are boiling down co-cola?) but the illustration of a sticky, spicy syrup is on the money.
That sounds great. Where can I eat it.
All the way the hell out in Alexandria (sorry, guys), at an amazing place called Stomping Ground that just opened in May. The owner and head chef Nicole Jones is from Georgia—where she is described to have "begrudgingly fell in love with the charmingly perplex small towns of the Deep South," an authentically conflicted account of Southern sensibilities that makes me trust her immediately. You can keep the cannolis, Nicole.
In addition to making a dank coldbrew, these guys produce a truly superior biscuit (I consider myself an expert on the topic, having once spent an entire night in an all-night biscuit shop in the East Village. Empire Biscuit, I miss you every day). The Stomping Ground biscuit is buttery and flakey on the outside, with just the right amount of salty crispiness, but still maintains its deliciously fluffy insides. This is a masterful feat of engineering and when you put their whipped sorghum butter on it, you might as well just stop what you're doing and die right there. Stomping Ground, you guys are American heroes.
Actually, I ate a lot of amazing stuff with sorghum here. Like pickles, in a brine cut with sorghum—so, the good sweet kind of pickle, not the chemically sweet kind that comes out of a jar and makes all the other sweet kinds look bad. Nay, friends, this is a kind of tangy sweetness that makes one yearn for a ham sandwich and a bag of Lays. (Speaking of sandwiches, the other way I knew I trusted these guys was they told me they source local and make just about everything in-house—except mayo, because how do you improve on Duke's? I'll tell you how, assholes. You don't.)
There's also sorghum lollipops to be had at Stomping Ground, so to be honest, there really isn't any excuse for you not to get on the Yellow Line right now and go here.