Thursday, March 10, 2011


At home we grew sugarcane.

We grew other things, too, but nothing with the immediate gratification of sugarcane, tall stalks waving in the hot, flat breeze, a perfect place to go on adventures in our minds.

When it was time to cut the stalks, my cousins and I always rode on the sides of Harold's pickup truck, cheering on the cutters. They'd cut off a few knuckles and hand them up to us and we'd turn into truck-riding gargoyles, gnawing and sucking on the stringy thick stalks.

While we all knew that the Dixie Crystals sugar in the cabinets back at the house was cane sugar, I don't think we understood the immediacy of it all. To us, cane stalks went to the place with the mules, just this side of the Oconee River bridge where the elderly mule with the sunhat spent her days walking around in a circle, grinding the cane down so it could go on to wherever it went after that.

I'm not real clear on the parts I couldn't see happening.

What I knew was that when that cane left that mule, it went to the little shack about twenty yards away and was boiled down in big black caldrons that I thought were used at night to boil down bad city children.

The next time I saw the cane, it was in the form of cane syrup, either in the square bottles labeled Pinetucky Cane Syrup, or in a glass Dr. Pepper or Coca-Cola bottle with a cork in the top. We usually got a boxful of those bottles, labeled with masking tape and magic marker.

We didn't think it was odd to get a whole box of syrup, any more than we thought it was odd to eat everything in the freezer under the carport before our cow and hog, all but the moo and the squeal, came back to us, neatly wrapped in white freezer paper and identified by strange markings scrawled in china pencil.

But anyway. I never had syrup that came from a tree until I was 16 and my enrichment class went to the World's Fair in Knoxville. There was also cream of wheat, which I thought was a bowlful of wallpaper paste. I remember vividly putting the first bite of waffle (!) in my mouth and panicking, then grabbing my napkin and scrambling under the table to spit it out before it killed me.

It's hard to find good cane syrup anymore, I guess because it's strong, and the flavor isn't for the weak-willed. Anytime I'm driving through a rural area and I see a place selling boil'd p-nuts, I stop and see if they have any cane syrup, and if they do, I buy as much as I have singles for, then I ship some to my friend Beaufort, up in Michigan, where the infidels are.

I hadn't been able to find any lately, but one night I ventured over to My Dekalb Farmers Market and spied one dusty can of Steen's, forgotten at the back of one the deep shelves. I snatched it up and brought it home and have been using up my high-dollar-fancypants olive oil from Spain as fast as I could so I'd have a suitable bottle to pour it in. I finally got to the end of the olive oil about a week ago and washed out the bottle several times and let it air dry real good.

This morning I got out the funnel and poured it over from the can into the bottle.

I put my finger in the thin coat remaining in the can and licked it.

I'm pretty sure I saw the face of God. He grinned at me.

(note: this is a repost from my other blog. I thought it worth sharing)


  1. I don't believe I have ever had cane syrup. I doubt I could handle it, as I am more bitter than sweet.

  2. Stacey loves it. Before I knew you, or when you were still in New York, maybe, I had an open house the Sunday afternoon after Christmas. Here is what I had:

    Country ham (the salt-cured kind. A whole one. I had to take it to a butcher and have it sliced)
    Homemade butter
    Coconut Cake
    Apple Spice Cake
    A giant bowl of cherries
    Irish whiskey
    A huge bowl of sugar
    A teapot full of cream for the coffee
    Punch for the chirren
    Real cane syrup for the ham and biscuits

    All the best people came and it was just fabulous. I sent people home with hamhocks.

    Next time you'll have to come.

  3. This was beautifully written... wish I could have been in the back of Harold's truck.

  4. You probably still could. He's available for truck ridin'.

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  6. I believe one of my "dear friends" gave me a can of Steen's. We have enjoyed every bit of it, on hot biscuits.

  7. A merely okay friend wouldn't have shared, you know.

  8. Brought back many memories of making black strap molasses and watching a mule not unlike yours, at Artie Smiths place go round and round in circles.