Monday, November 26, 2007

Sugaring, Southern Style

In the South, sugar cane is the source of most things sweet. The weather and natural tree selection prevents maple sugaring, so to satisfy the Southern sweet tooth, we grow sugar cane. Just so you know, there are several varieties. Most people here grow two - one for syrup and one for chewing. In the fall, traditionally the weekend after Thanksgiving, the cane is harvested, stripped of its foliage, and then pressed.

In the past the cane press was turned with mules - some still are. Last year my neighbors pressed and cooked the cane the old fashioned way with mules and a wood fire, but this year an old tractor and a huge belt was used to turn the press and a propane fire was used to cook the juice.

I hated to see the change, but training mules and donkeys to walk round and round for hours on end must be a lot of trouble. I also understand that a gas fire is easier to regulate than a wood fire, but you know how I am about the old ways. The second picture is the pulley that is attached to the tractor. Mr. W says they had a lot of technical difficulties early in the morning with the tractor, yet they mostly had it figured out.

Once you get the press turning, you feed the cane through the press without getting your fingers caught. The idea of being pulled into the press just gives me the all-overs. Can you hear my voice of caution warning my children when it was their turn to shove cane through? I'm turning into my mother. Help!!

When the cane comes out the other side it is mashed to pulp. The juice is extracted and is filtered through a burlap bag which will capture all the cane pieces that get left behind. From the bag the juice is stored in a big tub with a spigot. When enough juice is captured, it is released through a pipe into the cooking tray, which unfortunately no one thought to capture in a picture.
The juice is cooked and stirred, stirred and cooked until it is a perfect consistency. Then, it is released into syrup cans and sealed. Yum! Yum! If you continue cooking, you will have cane sugar, though it is a beautiful mocha brown color rather than the white of grocery store sugar. My neighbors buy their sugar, so stop at syrup.


ZILLA said...

There's an orchard in the county east of us where they still turn the cider press with a small horse. Whether it's nostalgia or romance or something else, I do think this orchard's cider is the best I've ever tasted. (And, don't say you heard it from me, but their old-fashioned fried cinnamon sugared donuts are well worth the strain on one's pancreas and lower GI tract.)

In other words, I know what you mean about the tractor & propane.


Kate in NJ said...

Very cool!

mull-berry said...

Fascinating! Would one use this like corn syrup?

This more than makes up for no post yesterday.

Melora said...

What a neat thing to watch, though I would be the same way, maybe worse, about having my kids feed canes into the machine. I think the mules would be much more fun than a tractor, but I imagine it is fairly dull for them.

Wisteria said...

Cane syrup has a stronger flavor than corn syrup, but you could substitute. Most around here pour it on biscuits or pancakes.

The tractor is loud and the propane burners hiss - sensory overload before you even get to smell the syrupy sweet smell of the cane cooking. Obviously, the scent of diesel mingling with the cane is not as appealing as pure sugar.

Susan T. said...

Wisteria, the process you describe has "kids book" written all over it. Junior would LOVE to see such a happening!

I love cane syrup. My dad used to bring it home for us.

Angela said...

Thank you for this! I'm going to share with the kids tomorrow. We have taken part in maple sugaring a few times here in Pennsylvania and once in Vermont, usually in the bitter cold of February. It is so strange to be totally bundled and surrounded by snow, but enter the steamy sugar shack where the maple is being cooked down to syrup for a few hours. I never enjoyed snow more than when we drizzled how syrup into it and made hard candy on the spot while we cooled down!