Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Timely Tuesday

As I recall I mentioned telling you about the cane grinding and polecat.
Each year we grew sugar cane to make syrup to have all year long til the next cane grinding. We planted about 5 acres of cane starts (section of the cane with a bud in the middle for a growing point) after our current harvest. It would work its magic and grow roots during the winter and be ready to burst forth in the Spring with green shoots that quickly turned into canes. One year we planted two varieties. In addition to our usual yellow/green cane we got some purple cane starts to plant. They grew slimmer than the usual cane and Pa didn't seem to care much for that. Neither did we as we hoed and cared for the cane field during the spring and summer. As November arrived we would start getting the cane ready for harvest. Pa would cut a stalk and peel it and pop it into his mouth and chew away on the pulp tasting for the perfect sweetness to make cane syrup. Then we would strip the cane leaves off the cane stalks with a machete like tool. Sometimes we would have a rhythm going of down on one side flip around and down on the other side til all the cane stalks were stripped clean. With perfect timing we would cut off the tops of the canes and leave them for the next days work which we would cut down the stalks and pile them up. Bright and early the next morning we would harness ole Kate (our mule) up the the sled and head to the field. We would load the canes up and head on back to the cane mill. When all was brought in Kate would be harnessed up to the pole that stretched from one side to the other nearly touching the ground. As she would walk around and around the grinders we would put a piece of cane in between the big metal rollers that mashed the stalks and released the juice which was collected in metal drums. When the drums were filled to a level they could still lift Pa and my oldest brother would lift them up and pour them in the big kettle that was protected under a pole barn type structure. The cast iron bowl would hold 80 gallons but we cooked off 50 gallons at a time. This was repeated many times over the course of a few days. During the cooking we would skim off the foam and stir the juice in the kettle. As the cane juice cooked it would eventually turn into syrup and we knew when Pa called for us to come get the Polecat it was about ready put in bottles and we were in for a treat. Along the rim of the kettle was a yellowish thickened substance similar to taffy but thinner. We would all line up and each one had a cane strip to hand to Pa to dip in the kettle to get us some Polecat. He would hand it back and caution us to be careful as it was very hot. As we blew on our strips to cool what we thought was manna from Heaven we would look around to see if anyone had started eating it yet. While it was still warm we would slurp up that sweet tasting treat and ask for more. We sure did love Polecat and it was our treat for doing the work required to store syrup for the year on shelves in the smoke house. Well that's another story for another time for now I leave you with Just This... Alice