For the average American family, Thanksgiving Day means having too much to eat and then the men watching football and the ladies planning their shopping strategy. But for one Effingham County family, it means grinding sugar cane and making syrup.
Clayton Dasher, now 72 years old, said his parents started to make syrup on Thanksgiving Day about 85 years ago “because they were married on Thanksgiving Day.”
Dasher’s parents were married for 67 years, and the cane grinding and syrup making continued.
“All the family would come in,” he said. “They’d have dinner and grind cane.”
After his parents died, Dasher and his brothers kept it going. He said they’ll usually have quite a crowd of family on hand.
“We’ll have over 100 here,” he said, noting the total could be as many as 150 people. “Some of ’em are scattered out, but the majority lives in the area.”
Most of those who come still live in Effingham County but there are some in Chatham County, plus others in Atlanta, Florida and elsewhere.
Dasher said he grows his own cane on a patch of land he used to farm when he was younger. Now he’s content with a little sugar cane and a garden.
“We bring it in, that’s the mill there, we grind it there and we back the truck up in there and stand on the table and feed the cane in the mill,” he said of the syrup-making process. “I’ve got a tractor and I put the belt on and run it. Then we put the juice in it and then the juice runs in to the vat right there. We put a cloth up on the rack yonder, and then we’ve got a pump there. We put the pump over there and pump it into the boiler.”
Dasher said the process takes a little over an hour and a half to grind the cane and about another four hours to cook it up.
“It’s a lot of work to get just a little bit of syrup,” he said, adding 120 gallons of material yields from 10-12 gallons of syrup. “It may run more, according to how sweet it is. Nobody does it much anymore; it’s a lot of work in it. But you used to depend on it years ago. That was one of the crops they used to have that they’d sell.”
Dasher said while most folks cook with gas now, he still prefers to use dry pine – lots of dry pine, and fat light wood to keep it going. He’s also a familiar sight at the Effingham County Fair, as he has been demonstrating syrup boiling for the past few years.
He reflected that he’s been cooking up syrup for his family and friends for a long time now, and that he’s hoping someone from the family will step up to keep the tradition alive.
“I’ve got some of ’em coming along now, some of the nephews, grandkids — they’re coming along now,” Dasher said. “Hopefully, they’ll keep it going. It’s been a family tradition for all this many years.”