It’s a misconception that sugar cane won’t grow in northern Florida. In fact, you can find locally-produced cane-sugar as far north as farmers markets in middle Georgia. It is true, however, that it has not been a major export crop from the Clay County area. It has been grown here since British colonial times, typically in small fields of less than five acres. In 1917, however, we know 79 acres were planted in sugar cane in Clay County.
Acreage increased in the 1930’s. Today, perhaps twenty acres are under cultivation and at least two family cane grinding events still happen each winter.
It’s true that cane grinding requires a mill, but not much of one compared to saw mills or grist mills. Most of the time, Clay County mills were mule-powered, but occasionally steam mills were operated. Nowadays, it’s cheaper to borrow a tractor to turn the mill than to keep a mule in feed for a year just for one day’s grinding.
Buying cane syrup at the market? Check the label to see if you’re getting the real deal or whether it’s got corn syrup filler — lots of them do.
Scientific Steps for Extracting Cane Syrup
Thanks to the Starling Family for some photos.
1. Harvest your spring garden and then plant your cane. (We get two growing seasons in Clay County)
2. Watch it grow.
3. When you’re out in the field on your mule in early December and no one can see you, the cane is ready. Call your family and friends.
4. Hitch up the mule to the grinding machine and coax her to go round, extracting cane juice into a bucket.
5. Stand around and get your picture taken.
6. Boil up the juice into syrup. These vats are so large that they’re also great for scalding the hair off a hog.
7. Finally, filter the syrup through an HTSD (high-tech screening device). It’s a coincidence this looks like an old sock.