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.