Volunteers at the Pioneer Florida Museum have been making cane syrup for many years. The juice is rendered from sugar cane using a vertical roller mill powered by a mule or a horse pulling the sweep around the mill that is in the center. We recently set up a larger, horizontal roller mill which is powered by a flat belt from a 1941 John Deere AO or, our latest addition, a 1928 John Deere GP.
Our cooker is an 80 gallon syrup kettle permanently installed in a brick furnace which was built by former County Agent Luthar Rozar. In keeping with old-time ways, the furnace is fired with "liter knots" which must be scavenged from local pastures and wooded areas. It takes eighty gallons of cane juice cooked down to produce six to eight gallons of syrup. This labor intensive process takes six to eight hours to complete.
The museum has its own cane patch which yields enough juice to produce half a batch of syrup. For the rest, we harvest the cane from a small patch that Mr. Rozar cultivates as well as from other "backyard" cane patches.
Charlie Kirksey, head of our cane operation, is happy to incorporate into our process a novel automatic skimmer, which is very easy to fabricate in a farm workshop. As the excitement over our cane operation grows, Charlie eagerly adds to the cane exhibit with donations from local cane enthusiasts. The exhibit is now home to a kettle dating back to before the Civil War and four additional mills.
Every fall, volunteers gear up again to begin producing this nostalgic taste of the South. The first cooking of the season is typically just before Thanksgiving and volunteers continue to cook syrup one to two times per month until late February, with the highlight of the syrup season being the annual Farm Festival and Quilt Show the second weekend in February. Visitors are invited to not only watch the process but to also sneak a taste of the current batch. Later, the finished product is on sale in the Museum Gift Shop in pint or quart sizes.
Syrup enthusiasts may even get a chance to experience this unique southern tradition on the road as Museum volunteers begin a series of traveling demonstrations at festivals throughout the state. The first of these traveling festivals was the Sugar Festival in Clewiston in April 2007. Other dates will be announced as they near.
We hope to see you there!