Some things still require a little old-fashioned technique
Categories: On The Farm, Food
Over time the syrup begins to turn a rich golden hue and that’s when the recipe testing begins. The old timers will dip a paddle into the vat and scoop, allowing the juice to flow off (like candy making) to test the consistency, hoping for a “stringy” effect, while the younger crackers will test the temperature until it reaches a 227 degree temperature (or 35 degree balm hydrometer reading). As the syrup begins to bubble and thicken, a sticky residue forms along the top rim of the kettle. The resulting sugar candy is called “polecat” and is a favorite step with young and old.
When the temperature and consistency are just right (often as determined by the most senior Florida Cracker) bucket-shaped dippers are brought out and a fast and furious scooping begins to collect the remaining thick syrup, which is then placed in a cloth-sieved bucket.
Once the syrup is out of the kettle, a famous tradition ensues:
“Pull the Fire!” yells Steve Melton, and the hot wood still burning in the stove is yanked out to the yard to remove the heat and let the kettle begin to cool.
Immediately thereafter, the syrup bottling begins. Spouted containers of freshly made and strained syrup are poured directly into empty bottles while the syrup is hot, then it is capped and labeled. The crowd of family and friends makes this process easy by making it an assembly line.
The result is the dark, bittersweet and gooey nectar that was a staple in pioneer Cracker households.
Making cane syrup is more than just a farm process. It’s a fall tradition that centers on family, friends and community coming together to lend a hand and socialize at the same time. Even today many families make it part of their Thanksgiving, celebrating the harvest and their blessings. Old timers compare notes about their recipes and argue about the best ways to make syrup, but it seems to really be about being with those you love and celebrating the best of Florida.
Best Time to See Sugar Cane Syrup Demonstrations
Most Sugar Cane Syrup is made in the fall that coincides with sugar cane harvesting time. Sugar cane boils typically occur between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
Buying Cane Syrup
Many historical museums, nature centers, or places with public demonstrations listed above should have syrup for sale. There are also sources listed online found with a quick search.
See the accompanying side bar for places you can see a live sugar cane boil.