Every year, on Green Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, not to be confused with Black Friday, its evil twin), my family has its annual cane grinding. The first cane grinding on my family’s farm was some time in the late 1800′s, however it was stopped about 60 years ago and not started again until 2005 when my father rebuilt the original shelter that housed the boiler.
The process we use changes from year to year but the following is a description of the process as it was done in 2011.
The preparation for the grinding is usually done 1 to 2 weeks earlier and the process hasn’t really changed in the last 100 years. The leaves of the cane must be stripped off using a tool with a forked metal piece on the end.
A machete is used to cut the tops off the cane stalks and to cut them down.
The stalks are placed in wooden holders designed to fit approximately 1/2 of a boiling and be easily transported using a tractor forklift.
The stacks of cane are covered in the leaves that were stripped off earlier to protect them if there is a freeze during the 1 – 2 weeks they are there.
The leaves are cleared off of a stack of cane and a fork lift on the back of a tractor is used to pick it up.
The cane is then sat down on a rack designed to make it easy to reach the cane and feed it into the grinder.
The cane is then fed into a Kenwood 1895 No. 0 grinder which is powered by driving a tractor in circles around the grinder
The juice comes out and is strained with a tea strainer and a burlap sack.
The juice then runs through an underground pipe system until it comes out and flows into a 60 gallon cast iron pot.
Once the pot is full, the juice level is brought down using the drain valve and then the juice is diverted into a 55 gallon barrel so that grinding can continue while the juice is cooking.
A gas burner under the pot is lit using a homemade matchstick.
Once the juice starts boiling (usually 20 – 30 minutes), a homemade skimmer made by wiring a grease splatter guard to a handle is used to skim any impurities that come to the surface off of the cane.
Once the juice start boiling up, a burlap sack is placed between the lower and upper rims of the pot. The juice then boils over the lower rim and through the burlap sack, further purifying it.
Once the juice is getting near done the level drops and the burlap is pulled off. The juice will then start “thumping,” or having explosive bubbles that shoot the juice up to 2 feet above the surface of the rest of the liquid.
There are two methods of telling when the syrup is ready to be bottled. The first is counting how long it takes for the boiling bubbles to cease once it is scooped up. The magic number is 37 but this is not 37 seconds, it is specific length of counting that is passed down from one generation to the next.
The second method is measuring the density of the liquid using the Baumé scale. The density of syrup when it is ready to be bottled is approximately 35 baume.
Once the syrup is ready you can see it flake when you pour it.
The syrup is then poured through a cotton cloth to purify it one last time.
The syrup is then put into the bottles from the aluminum pot which was fitted with a brass valve at the bottom.
The bottles are then labeled and ready to go!