Rais­ing Cane the Old-Fash­ioned Way


IF YOU ASK EVANS AND JOHNNY MILLER how long they’ve been grow­ing sugar cane and mak­ing home­made syrup out of it, they’ll tell you they reckon it’s been their whole lives. When fall de­scends in the Deep South and the leaves start to change col­ors, my Grand­fa­ther Evans and Great-Un­cle Johnny know it’s al­most time for cane. Cane grows from fall to fall, and it never needs to be re­planted af­ter it’s chopped down. Start­ing a new patch of sugar cane is easy, though, be­cause you can sim­ply lay a cane stick on the ground and na­ture will do its job from there. Over the years, the broth­ers have in­cluded their sons in the cane tra­di­tion, and later their grand­sons joined in. Every Thanks­giv­ing morn­ing, the broth­ers, sons and grand­sons— along with ad­di­tional fam­ily and friends— come to­gether on the Miller fam­ily farm in Bass­field, Mis­sis­sippi, to make the syrup. The fam­ily uses strip­ping tools to re­move the cane leaves, cut off the tops and cut the stalks down be­fore bundling them to­gether. Next, the sugar cane stalks are taken to a mill. Tra­di­tion­ally, a mule or a horse would have kept the mill go­ing, but to­day the Millers use trac­tors. Johnny has a mill in his back­yard that grinds the stalks. Af­ter they’re ground, the juice is drained and strained be­fore it’s poured into a gi­ant syrup pan. The syrup is cooked while some­one mon­i­tors it closely, con­tin­u­ally skim­ming the foam off the top. From there, the syrup is poured into jars and di­vided up, some go­ing to the fam­ily and some to be given away as gifts. The fam­ily turns 100 gal­lons of juice into about 20 gal­lons of syrup every year. The sweet re­ward for all their hard work is a de­li­cious syrup that is poured over bis­cuits through­out the next year, un­til har­vest­time comes around again.

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