Thursday, November 20, 2008

Making Cane Syrup

I'm finished! I woke up this morning with a song in my heart rejoicing. I didn't have to hastily face the cold morning. I didn't have to strain sugar cane juice. I didn't have to spend between 11 and 13 hours stirring and skimming at the stove. I am happy today.

Every day for the past 4 days, we lugged heavy 5 gallon buckets into the kitchen to strain the juice into large stock pots.

We brought 7 full buckets of un-strained sugar cane juice home from the Wilson homestead last weekend.

Miss Wanda told us to strain it with a cloth diaper. It took at least 4 of them each day to strain one 10 gallon batch. A colander easily supported the cloth.

We had to process the cane juice as quickly as possible before it soured. The Lord blessed us with very cold weather all week providing natural refrigeration. However, we still tried to get done quickly.

After talking to Miss Wanda about the need to process the cane juice quickly, we started Sunday after church. I have 1 six gallon stock pot and started with 5 gallons of syrup. I finished my first batch of syrup at 3:30 a.m. Monday and learned I would need to speed up the process. I cleaned out my water bath canner and inducted it into the process. I also used the lids to the pots to bring the juice to a boil faster.

Each bucket completely filled a pot with juice.

As the juice heated up, debris would foam to the top. I had to continually skim the foam from the pot as it rose up.

My husband searched the internet and told me not to skim the foam until after the juice boiled and the bubbles first broke through the foam. I tried that one day and found the churning caused some debris to sink back into the pot. The batch of syrup I did following this advice is not as clean as the batches where I started skimming before the boil. Mr. I.J. Wilson told me Saturday one did not learn farming from books. I will have to tell him he was right.

My husband Kurt also read the skimmings from the syrup making process could be used for natural fertilizer. This makes sense so I saved the skimmings.

Of course I don't have anything growing at present and I'm afraid to save the skimmings for long because I am sure they will ferment and turn nasty. I think I will mix them with the mulch I hope to spread on the garden beds after plowing under the weeds.

Each day, the cane juice slowly receded toward the bottom of the pot,

filling the house with steam.

Despite unusually dry conditions outside, humidity levels in the house remained high. Throughout the house, the windows stayed foggy.

By the 4th day, the kids reported rain in the house as condensation dripped from light fixtures and doorways. Thinking about it, I turned 35 gallons of juice into 4 gallons of syrup. This means I sent 31 gallons of water into the air! I begin to see some wisdom in processing syrup outdoors.

As the process of turning cane juice into cane syrup finalized, the liquid bubbled with an orange color. It also developed an orange tinted foam.

At this point I scooped a little syrup into a dish and cooled it quickly in the freezer. If the cool liquid had the consistency of honey, I turned off the heat and ladled the syrup into clean, warm jars.

Cane syrup needs no further processing and can be stored without refrigeration. I'm guessing it is shelf safe because it is a kind of dehydrated food.

In addition to the inside rain, there were a couple of challenges I faced while processing the sugar cane juice. The condition of the cane juice deteriorated as it sat, to the point my children no longer wanted to drink it. (I believe some of the sweetness disappeared as it started to sour. I'm thinking souring is simply a form of fermentation.) However, the juice never soured to the point of tasting sour and I can not really taste the difference in the final syrup.

Another challenge involved my 3 year old who didn't like having his Mom a prisoner to the stove for 4 days. (I ran to the bathroom once and my syrup boiled over. It really needs to be watched, especially while it is foaming during the first few hours and at the end.) In the end I compromised on my principles and allowed Michael to watch television during the day.

Normally we only watch a little television at the end of the day as a family (and then only dvds). However there are times when having a copy of "Chicken Run" in the house is a good thing.

My family presented another challenge. Seems they like to eat regularly. I am very glad I keep my pantry stocked with homemade foods. So, last night for dinner for example, I squeezed a sauce pan behind my stock pot and reheated a couple jars of homemade chicken soup.

I also took some homemade banana bread out of the freezer and re-baked it for a few minutes so it would taste fresh.

We survived on such fixings all week. Of course now that I am finished making syrup, I'm burned out on cooking and behind schedule. I really needed to bake some bread this morning, but all I did was make coffee and warm up some gingerbread I'd baked earlier this week (with some of our own cane syrup substituted for the sugar and molasses) for breakfast. Instead of making salsa with the tomatoes aging in the refrigerator, I spent hours at the computer catching up with email. With Thanksgiving coming, I really need to get back my cooking mojo.


Melissa N. said...

Wow, what a process! It feels good to have it all done though, doesn't it? What a neat experience.

Anonymous said...

What an accomplishment! Looks great!

The Gingerbread House said...

Well done Deborah, Well done! Ginny

Dora Renee' Wilkerson said...

Those are great pics!

Thanks for posting them.

I'd love to plant some here and just might do it next year. I already bookmarked your site!

We are North of you (we are in Pell City.)

Thanks again,

Dora Renee' Wilkerson