Fall in years gone by in Effingham County meant the sugar cane was ready and cane syrup could be made. There are only a handful of people that still do this today. Danny Harden keeps tradition alive at Clyo and Gilbert Exley in Rincon. Clayton Dasher of Marlow has for many years cooked syrup at the Effingham County Fair and at his home during his annual family Thanksgiving gathering. He plans, with a few helpers, on cooking syrup at the fair this year.
Cane grindings were social events where neighbors and families gathered to help with the syrup making and sit around and talk and drink a little cane juice or chew pieces of cane.
Cane is first stripped and harvested. It is then run through a grinding mill and the juice is collected and strained through porous cloth. Originally the cane mill was run by a mule or horse that walked in a circle powering the mill. Now days, due to laws for humane treatment for the animals, the cane is ground by a mill operated by a tractor or another engine.
The cane juice is poured into a large cast iron syrup pot housed in a furnace built to hold the fire. The heat is carefully monitored and the syrup is stirred and monitored carefully.
The juice in the boiler foams and is skimmed. It is cooked and watched carefully so it will not scorch. When it is golden and thick as desired, it is dipped up into tubs and cooled slightly and bottled.
The delicious syrup was a household staple with a bottle on almost every table. Bread with clabber or cream and syrup was dessert for the farmer for years. In war times when sugar was short the cooks learned to make desserts using syrup like ginger bread and syrup cookies or cake.
It was common in the fall for the young people to gather and have a “candy pulling”. Games went on in the yard like red rover or drop the handkerchief. Many times this was on the last night of syrup boiling. The thick syrup was put into smaller pans until cool enough to handle. Two people would stretch the rope of sugary syrup and as it was pulled, and folded over and over for a good while it would become lighter in color and airy. The candy became hard enough to break or cut. The delicious treat was enjoyed by all who were present.
In the 1940s cane syrup was a big industry in Effingham. The syrup was put in cans and shipped by train cars to supply the needs of those in the cities who could no longer buy sugar due to rationing.
Check out old time syrup making at the Effingham County Fair which begins on October 23rd and runs through 28th.
This was written by Susan Exley from Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos or historical information to share contact her at 912-754-6681 or email firstname.lastname@example.org