The Syrup Sopping
By Ronald and Candace Hackett
||Every year around Thanksgiving, the descendants
of James Dillon Proctor, Candace's Great Great Grandfather, gather together
to celebrate a family tradition we call the syrup sopping. Grandpa Proctor
once owned and worked over 2000 acres of farm land in Central Florida just
south of what is now the Ocala National Forest. This photo of James
Dillon Proctor was probably taken in the late 1800's.
|Grandpa Proctor began growing sugarcane and selling
cane syrup in the early 1900's. He bought a 100 gallon, cast iron kettle
from Ohio to make his cane syrup. We don't know when Grandpa Proctor bought
the kettle, but it must be close to 100 years old. The cane grinding
and syrup sopping has always been a social event. This photo was
taken about 1912. It shows Grandpa Proctor's syrup cook house which
was near the main house. The small girl in the picture is Candi's
Great Grandmother, Alma Proctor. Her mother, Grandma Proctor, is
standing next to her. They are surrounded by family friends.
The dog in the foreground was named Ring.
||Five generations of the family have now used that
same kettle for making cane syrup. Although Grandpa Proctor and his family
did use some of the cane syrup for themselves, most of the syrup was sold
for cash. Most of his other crops were used by the family or traded for
the staples and services they needed. The picture to the left shows the
sugar cane being unloaded.
|Today the family makes cane syrup for their own
use, because it is not cost effective to sell the syrup. It has evolved
into a large family gathering around Thanksgiving. The family brings biscuits,
pancakes, sausage, and other goodies to sop up the syrup. This is where
we get the name syrup sopping. The tractor and wagon in the background
belong to Candi's Grandpa Hackett. It stands ready for the annual
hay ride that follows the syrup soppin'.
||To make cane syrup, the juice inside the cane
is extracted by squeezing it between powerful rollers in a mill. Here we
see Ed Richards inserting a cane stalk to be squeezed for it's juice.
|The crushed cane is fed to the cows, and the cane
juice is poured into the old 100 gallon kettle. Some people like to drink
the cane juice, and chewing on stalks of sugarcane used to be a special
treat for children. In this photo, Chuck Glaze fills his cup with
cane juice. Notice that he filters it first. The cane juice
if full of debris from the crushed cane stalk.
|Grandpa Proctor used a mule or a horse to power
his mill, but today we use a tractor engine. This photo was taken about
1912 and shows Grandpa Proctors old mill being powered by the plow horse.
The syrup cook house is in the background.
||After the kettle has been filled, a fire is started
under it. Grandpa Proctor stoked his fire with wood, but today we use a
propane burner. As the cane juice boils, the water in it evaporates making
a thick, sweet smelling steam.
|Also as the juice boils, the impurities float
to the surface and are skimmed off using large strainers or skimmers. The
"skimmings" are collected and can be fed to the animals, or used to make
a strong alcoholic beverage called "buck." It takes about four hours to
boil 100 gallons of cane juice down to about 8 gallons of cane syrup.
||During the final phase of the boiling, the syrup
bubbles furiously, and splashes up on the sides of the hot iron kettle.
These bubbles crystallize to make a caramel tasting candy. We remove the
candy using strips of the sugarcane stalks and eat it while it is still
hot. Some of the hot syrup is intentionally pour onto the hot iron
kettle to make more of the candy.
|While the syrup is still hot, it is dipped out
of the kettle, filtered through cheesecloth, and poured into sterilized
bottles. This must be done before the syrup cools or it will be too hard
This is where our family stops. To make the cane
syrup into sugar, the syrup is placed in a centrifuge. As the syrup spins,
the sugar crystals separate from the syrup leaving behind molasses. The
result is light brown colored crystals called 'cane sugar.' This is how
the sugar is shipped in bulk. When the sugar reaches the final processing
plant it is washed, dissolved into water syrup, and then crystallized by
boiling it in vacuum pans and centrifuging again. The final product is
the white, crystallized sugar we are familiar with. Brown sugar is extracted
from the molasses after all the white sugar has been removed. It is brown
because it is coated with a thin coat of refined molasses. Technically,
brown sugar Is called 'soft sugar.'
A little more than half the worlds sugar comes
from sugarcane. The rest comes from the sugar beet and a few other sugar
rich plants. Sugarcane is not native. to Florida, but it thrives in the
warm. moist climate and rich, sandy soil. Settlers brought the sugarcane
with them when they came to Florida, and by the year 1600, sugar production
in the subtropical and tropical Americas had become the world's largest
and most lucrative industry.
Reference: Grolier's Encyclopedia, 1992
Last Updated: 4 December 2000
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