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Sorghum | New World Seeds & Tubers

Some of you might know about Peters Seed and Research. It was a small cropseed company run by Tim Peters and eventually his associate, Dave Woods.

It sold a variety of fruits and vegetables, but its primary claim to fame were a few of its specialties. It was probably the most accessible source of perennial grains in the USA if not the world. Perennial grains (typically, wheat) also show up from time to time in government crop-breeding programs, but Tim was one of the few crop variety breeders who really took them seriously and tried to develop practical crops out of them.

What we have found is that perennial grains are useful in situations where you can just let them grow, and harvest them opportunistically. They tend to perform better than annual grains in harsh-weather years like this one for us.

Tim also specialized in Cucurbits and leafy greens, and he had several early-ripening tomatoes suitable for the Pacific Northwest, where tomatoes can be a challenge to ripen especially in La NiƱa years.

He also had a few odds and ends worthy of Luther Burbank, but without the controversial hype. For example, “Garden Huckleberries”–that is, edible Nightshades used as substitutes for blueberries–that are bigger and sweeter than normal.

That was what was available to the public. What was still in development was tantalizing in a weirdly wonderful way. Imagine for example Hibiscus bred to combine cold-hardiness, palatable leaves, EDIBLE PODS (like Okra or “tropical cranberries”), PLUS showy, edible flowers that can be used to make smoothies.

The trick of course would be to combine traits of already-existing species of Hibiscus and related genera. That was one of Tim’s specialties, including seemingly-impossible wide crosses.

He also did work on perennial eggplants and cucurbits, and took an interest in Passionfruit.

Tim was motivated to eventually bring this stuff to market.

Eric Toensmeyer’s book Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles (one of those “fun” books that keeps you up at night thinking of possibilities)
resulted in a sudden awareness of Tim Peter’s work. Unfortunately, it was too late; the company was already on its last legs. Now if you look up Peters Seed and Research on the internet, all you’ll find is a lot of inquiries regarding where to find this or that variety, or what happened to the company and would it be possible to buy his varieties from another source.

Tom and I rescued several of them. They were exceedingly hard to find. A few may have gone extinct. Too bad.

What if a small miracle happened, and some of his best varieties were suddenly available again?

It could happen. Stay tuned. Smiley

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Grain sorghum, also known as “Milo”, isn’t familiar to most Americans. They usually mistake it for either corn (maize) or millet.

That’s because it looks like a corn plant sporting a sprout of millet on top!

I have some down at the farm, and some more in my (Rob’s) back-yard in Seattle. My backyard is basically a nursery for the farm and the seed-and-tuber business, and looks like a farm in miniature.

Three of the sorghum varieties in my back yard were bred by “the amazing” Tim Peters, formerly of Peters Seed and Research. They’re growing in my backyard for lack of other options until I build up enough seed stock to risk them elsewhere, for example, on my farm as soon as I can prepare a spot for them that will be out of the way of the farmer’s tractor. You see, Tim’s Sorghums are all perennial.

Here’s one called “Iron Mountain”:

Sorghum blossoms

Tim’s varieties are WAY ahead of the other varieties in my back yard. With this freakishly cool weather this year, might be nip and tuck getting the others ripe. All of them are rare and we need to increase them.

Speaking of Tim Peters, a lot of people have been asking what happened to his company, and where they can find his crop varieties. What happened is that he took some time off of his breeding, growing, and selling work. The good news is that more of his tomato varieties will be available from us next year. Even better news is that Tim is currently planning to be back to resume his crop-breeding work. I’ll make another, bigger announcement to confirm the fact once I see his smiling face back in the hills of southwestern Oregon next time Tom and I are down there. The plan is for him to be back in the Pacific Northwest in time for prime hardy grain-planting season. Hope so. Imagine the synergy of Tom Wagner and Tim Peters working together!

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Chocolate-chip cookies made out of sorghum flour
I’ve received requests to post the recipe for chocolate-chip cookies made with sorghum flour. Here it is, adapted from a similar recipe using brown rice flour and rice milk found in Flying Apron’s Gluten-Free & Vegan Baking book:

1. Preheat oven to 350F/175C

2. Sift together:
2 3/4 cups white sorghum flour
1 1/2 cup + 1TBSP chickpea flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4tsp sea salt

3. Mix:
1 cup canola oil
1 cup organic whole-cane sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

4. Turn mixer on low speed. While mixer is mixing, alternate adding dry ingredients and…

1 cup rice or soy milk

a little at a time until smooth.

5. Stir in
1 cup chocolate chips (use dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate if you want to make the cookies vegan)

6. Using a cookie scoop if you have one, or a teaspoon if you don’t, scoop cookie dough onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone liner, or use an insulated baking sheet and parchment or nonstick spray.

7. Gently flatten the cookies somewhat; otherwise they don’t flatten out all that well in the oven, lacking any saturated fat to melt into shape.

8. Bake 17 minutes until light golden brown.

9. Gently remove and cool on a wire rack.

Please check each ingredient you buy to make sure that it is truly wheat and gluten-free, if you have a severe wheat-related allergy or sensitivity.

These are almost good-for-you, lacking any “bad” ingredients like shortening. 1 cup of sugar is about the extent of the over-indulgence.

I make these for my kids from time to time. My kids are not gluten-sensitive, but I like the fact that these are fairly wholesome, and the combination of cereal + legume flours makes a complementary protein pair.

The original recipe calls for brown rice flour, which you could also use, but beware that brown rice is hard to grind fine. As a result, the original recipe results in cookies with a slightly sandy texture, unless you find finely-ground brown rice flour, which is hard to find. Sorghum flour gives them a finer texture.

A lot of gluten-free recipes have unpleasant tastes or textures, but rice or sorghum flours are fairly bland, while the chickpea flour adds a nice bit of character. Other than the slight grittiness of some brown rice flours (avoidable if you find an extra-fine grind), these have a pleasant taste, and a texture close enough to cookies made from wheat pastry flour, that most people would not notice the difference unless they try to dunk them in milk or hot tea, at which point they fall apart, lacking any gluten or binder.

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Chocolate-chip cookies made out of sorghum flourKansas where Tom is from is the only American state that grows much grain Sorghum. In the lower midwest it’s probably better known under the common name of “Milo”. They grow Milo instead of corn because the soils are not as rich, moist, and deep as they are in the “Corn Belt”. In general I think it’s probably a good bet for the valleys of the Ozarks, and perhaps also in areas currently irrigated by drawing from the Ogallala. Milo isn’t as thirsty as corn is.

People often ask me what good it is if you can’t make bread out of it. Well that is an interesting question because a great deal of wheat is devoted to uses where its gluten content is actually a problem not a benefit.

Consider for example cookies and pie crusts. You want them tender and crumbly or flaky, not chewy. If you tried to make them out of bread flour, you wouldn’t like them. As wheat prices soar it probably makes sense to substitute other grains in roles where wheat’s peculiar cooking properties are not needed.

Pictured above are cookies I baked using a mixture of Sorghum flour and chickpea flour. No wheat was used. As a result, they also happen to be gluten-free and safe for people with gluten intolerances.There’s no shortening or butter in these, just liquid oil. Being made from a combination of grain and legume, they are more-or-less protein-balanced despite not containing any animal proteins aside from a possible trace amount in the chocolate. Use dark chocolate to make them “vegan”.

I’ll make another post one of these days with the recipe.

How do they taste? Like chocolate chip cookies. The only way that it’s really obvious they are not made from wheat, is if you try to dunk them into milk or hot tea, they disintegrate. There’s no binder in them at all, neither gluten nor egg.

The one problem ingredient is the chocolate chips. Production is breaking down in the Ivory Coast and I can’t think of a convincing substitute for chocolate. I’ll have to think of another type of cookie that contains all ingredients you could grow yourself.

In the mean time, we’re growing out Sorghum and other useful grains this year, that you would have difficulty finding elsewhere retail and open-source.

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