Having grown up in the north in Chicago, I had no idea what a sugar cane boil was. I spent time living in Upstate New York, so I knew about making maple syrup, and I wondered if this was something similar. My work assignment for today was to help out at the Chesser Homestead for the annual sugar cane syrup boil. I was excited to learn about this Okefenokee swamper tradition.
|Joining me at this celebration was fellow blogger Kimbopolo. She’s on her way back to Auburn, AL, and stopped off at Okefenokee so we could meet. Cool Beans!|
The sugar cane mill was usually powered by a mule, but today we had an Appaloosa horse to do the honors. As the horse/mule was led around the circuit, sugar canes were fed into the mill. I was astonished by the amount of ‘juice’ that came out of each cane. The juice funneled down into a 55 gallon keg. The canes are put through the mill, and exit dry on the other side. When the barrel is full, it’s taken to the syrup shed to be boiled down. The Chesser family descendants and friends began the wood fire under the 60 gallon water filled vat in the syrup shed last night. They stayed overnight out at the homestead. That vat has to be hot before the sugar cane juice is added. At the last minute, the water is dipped out, and the cane juice is added to heat to a rolling boil that takes hours to boil down into syrup. It’s quite an undertaking to produce the syrup, and back in the day the whole family participated. Making sugar cane syrup was one of the ways the pioneer families could earn some income to add to their subsistence living.
Throughout the day while the cane was being milled and boiled, the ladies of the family were busy inside the homestead baking biscuits in the wood fired stove, and making lunch for the family workers. Visitors today were treated with the homemade biscuits drizzled with pure cane syrup. I’d never had cane syrup before, so I had to taste them.
As I was enjoying my tasty biscuit, a fellow volunteer that grew up on Chesser Island came by to instruct me on the proper eating technique for biscuits and syrup. He’ll be 80 next month and worked on this homestead when he was young. Apparently I was doing things wrong. Notice how I split my biscuit (top left of collage), put on some butter, and drizzled the syrup on top. You’re supposed to pick up the warm biscuit, push your finger down through the middle of it, and then fill the depression with syrup. That way, I was told, you don’t even need a plate! I asked him how you got the butter inside, and was told you don’t use butter, just syrup. Being a believer in the Paula Dean philosophy that everything is better with a little bit of real butter, I politely disagreed with him.
There was a blue grass band playing throughout the day, and we were also treated to the singing by the Chesser ladies (top right of the collage). The Chessers were fond of a distinctive type of music: four-note or sacred harp singing. Their descendants continue to sing these primitive a cappella harmonies, and I was entranced by their short performance. I’m looking forward to hearing them again at the Christmas program next month out here on the homestead.
The final result of today’s endeavors was the production of the pure cane syrup. You know I had to buy some. The old-timer that tried to instruct me on how to properly eat a biscuit also told me that if you didn’t grow up around here, this syrup was an acquired taste. I told him, with a smile, that I would be practicing! It’s quite delicious.
Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later, Judy