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.