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Will's Visit for the 2017 Syrup Campaign


Last edit 2017-12-01 .
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This page will describe family time and will focus on our syrupmaking. I am the intended audience; I use these notes to augment my memory. Notwithstanding, I hope that some parts will be interesting to others, if not today, sometime.

Our syrupmaking activities have been described for 2007 and other years (2004, 2009, 2011, 2013a, 2013b). Our first cane (2002) was processed by the Griffin Mill, and the Brinsons processed our first juice the following year. Although there have been minor year-to-year variations, the processes are essentially the same and I will generally not repeat them. Over time, I have mechanized growing the cane, and our son, Will, is committed to helping every year now. The most significant change is that we have moved our cane growing to the W.H. Outlaw Farm in Berrien County, Georgia. This farm was not new to sugar cane, and my mother's notes indicate that she and Daddy--along with help from tenants and her parents (the latter who owned and lived on the adjoining farm)--made 1000 gallons of syrup one year. Think about that: wood-fired kettle and animal-powered mill. I suspect, but do not know, that the juice was processed on my grandfather's farm, where my greatgrandfather had set up a little syrup "factory" soon after he bought the farm in 1905 from Uncle Steve and Aunt Polly (née Sutton) Lewis. (That deed, incidentally, was in error, as it failed to exclude a cemetery established sometime between 1859 and 1866, and which was used as late as the early 20th century, and which I now refer to as Lost Cemetery 223/10. In all likelihood, my 3d greatgrandmother Nancy née Marsh Connell, 1823-1869, was among the first buried there, as her husband and my 3d greatgrandfather John E. Connell owned this landlot at her death. Much more but not here.) It is my best guess that the mill that "went with" Daddy's farm had been removed by his grandfather Jerry S. "Buck" Sutton (Polly Lewis's brother), ca. 1912, and taken to his new farm in the 5th land district, and further, that that mill--a QFM #14 (Slide No. 10)--is now owned by Tommy and Carolyn Fletcher (the latter, my 2d cousin). I digress, but argue that context is important. . . . and, yes, I am using this page to raise awareness of the lost cemetery and to record conjectures not elsewhere.

I will start off on the wrong foot and mentioned that 2017 is one year to be forgotten. There were no serious crises, but just a constant dribble of aggravations. This trend continued in the run-up to making syrup: the day before I ground, the (very good) HVAC tech spent most of the day working on the HVAC condenser that had been installed a week earlier to replace the replacement unit (!!!); on the day of grinding, the transformer for our underground service went bad and had to be replaced, and later that day, the two-month-old freezer went out. I hope I've used up my bad luck.

There was an interesting piece of mildly bad luck relating to syrupmaking. About three days before I ground, I noticed that a patch on my left forearm was moist and sticky. Who knows, so I washed it and went about my affairs. During the night, I had the same experience and concluded that my earlier clean-up was unsatisfactory, so I got up and doubled-down with my cleaning. When I awoke, my arm was wet and sticky, my shirt was wet as was the pillow, and my arm was warm. Yikes, my skin was leaking! Without belaboring the issue, I found a plethora, pun intended, of small dead spiders or mites (example image, right) in the left arm of my all-weather suit; I had left the suit in an outbuilding and it had been appropriated as a home. When I donned the suit to pressure-wash and bleach around our mill, I paid no attention to what was in the sleeves. My dermatologist, with whom I seem connected at the hip, was not surprised to hear this account and see the critters, but it was a revelation to me. I am allergic to various substances, e.g. cat dander, but did not expect to be so sensitive to such tiny little critters. Live and learn.

An unusual set of circumstances led to an invitation to visit our proximate neighbors, Francine and Galt Allee, just before we started grinding cane. They own 120 acres of the original Bannerman Plantation and have restored the 1847 home (older image, 1976 image); although this map is not entirely accurate, it suffices to show the "upper pond," marked by the arrow. (We are located on the blue parcels to the south, and Lake Iamonia is to the lower right.) North Florida has an interesting history, not all good, and I have a share in this history as my 5th greatgrandfather Henry C. Tucker was the the first white to move to Tallahassee.

This was a special day, as the Allees were taking delivery of rainbow trout for stocking in the upper pond, as they do three times each winter. We were all eager to see this operation! The image below left shows Harrison and Christine by the delivery truck (other images of them there: 1 2 ). The image below right shows the fish being installed.

(Please note from the background in these images that our location is rolling (part of the Red Hills Bioregion) and is unlike the flatland of peninsular Flordia, which begins with the Cody Scarp about 16 miles south, where the old B&W Fruit Stand was once located.)

As mentioned, we now grow our cane at the farm, but did not take "seed" cane from our homestead because of red rot and the off chance that mycelia of Armillaria might hitch a ride to the farm. We grow two varieties now: POJ (sourced from Burt McKellar) and CP 52-48 (sourced from Marge & Hansel Morris). We follow fertilization recommendations based on soil tests, and usually split the fertilizer into a mid-March and an early-June applications. (But, that doesn't count the fertilizer put to the potatoes and greens between rows. ;) ) In the past, I had been careful about not fertilizing later than early June because it is widely believed that excess or late fertilization will give the syrup a salty taste. This year, I did delay until mid-late July and applied fertilizer based on leaf appearance. Not a hint of a salty taste. That was this year, on my soil, with POJ.

POJ (=Proefstation Oest Java, probably cultivar No. 213) is an heirloom cane, and probably my favorite of the nominal 20 that I have grown. It was the favorite of the late Don H. Dean (1936-2008), author of the The American Cane Mill, available on Amazon. "Brother Don" was a marvelous man. He knew that there was a strong possibility that his surgery would not be successful, and that his brain might be damaged. Unfortunately, the worst did happen. The night before his surgery, he wrote me a lengthy letter to express the value he placed on our friendship. Let me say that again: even as he knew he might die and might never be comforted by his beloved wife, Carol, or be in the company of this devoted children, John and Charlotte, he was thinking of others. What a selfless man whose passing is a loss to all. (Image of Don & Carrol on their farm.) POJ is described in detailed by Brandes et al. Note that it produces a "fancy quality of syrup" and that it is relative soft (and thus easier on smaller mills). It does have drawbacks (higher percentage of sucrose--which leads to cystallization--and is more difficult to cultivate than some varieties).

CP 52-48 (Canal Point (Florida) Trial beginning in 1952, Selection No. 48) is one of the three syrup varieties recommended in the last USDA bulletion on syrupmaking, which describes this cultivar in detail. In brief, it is stiff, erect, has a good root system, and produces a saccharine juice of nominally 19°. It is an excellent cane, almost fool-proof to grow, and produces a syrup equal to Yellow Gal (CP 29-116) according to Broadhead and Zummo. Some, e.g. Charles Deese, prefer it. Personally, I prefer CP 67-500 over CP 52-48, primarily because the latter is darker. However, our site is essentially disease free, so I do not take a chance and bring in another cane. I am happy.

Overall, my plan is to grow POJ and if some goes wrong, CP 52-48 is my backup. But, there are many good plans.

In the images below, Nedra stands in a vacant row middle between POJ on Jul 14th, 2017, (top left) and on Oct 29th, 2017 (top right). Then, Oct 29th, she moved over and I took her photograph with CP 52-48 (bottom, left). Finally, the day before I cut the cane, I took a closer image of POJ (bottom, right). I cut POJ on Nov 5th and 6th; for the first time, I mechanized the cutting by using my Stihl FS250 (40 cc) string trimmer fitted with a brush blade (following the lead of Charles Deese). What an improvement! . . . but, I will be interested to see if this method has a deleterious effect on the return from stubble. After I discarded the tops (about a third of which stalks I cut back to fit my 6.5-ft truck bed), small cane, and some I didn't feel like I could develop a relationship with, the yield was 8.3 lbs ft-1, which extrapolates to 80 000 lbs acre-1. This is a high yield (almost double our 2016 POJ plant cane probably because my intemperate irrigation in 2016 leached nutrients), but by no means in record territory; in a three-variety trial in Meridian MS, each of the tested varieties averaged more than 100 000 lbs acre-1 over a three-year period; Table 1. The chairman of my Reading Committee, the late Dr. C.C. Black, a Research Professor in Biochemistry at the University of Georgia, often remarked about the high productivity of sugarcane. He was a leading authority on what was first known as the Hatch-Slack pathway, but later as C4 photosynthesis. Plants having this pathway compartmentalize photosynthesis into two kinds of cells and have auxillary steps (in addition to the Calvin-Benson-Bassham cyle); this adaptation is common among tropical grasses (e.g. sugarcane, Bermuda, Bahia, crabgrass, corn) and present in other plants (e.g. pigweed) enabling them to carry out rapid photosynthesis and attain high growth rates in high-light environments. C4 plants do not, however, do well under limited light as they require an extra 2 ATPs for each carbon atom reduced (4 electrons) from the level of carbon dioxide to the level of carbohydrate.

Like in 2016, I did not cut any CP 52-48. In 2016, I did, however, cut Home Green and calculated a yield of 45 000 lbs acre-1. The high extraction rate (2016: 63%) was offset by the low brix (2016: 15.4°). I'll not interfere as Home Green works its way off the farm. Too much trouble for me.


I have many reasons to get up in the mornings. Among the most important are my family members. In the image (below left) stand one of our granddaughters Christine (named after my mother), our grandson Harrison (named after me), our son Will (named after me), and my spouse of forty-six years, Nedra. Sadly, our daughter Elizabeth and our too-spunky-for-prime-time granddaughter Kate were not with us for syrupmaking but we had just visited with them, and they will be back soon. In the foreground is the POJ that was ground later in the day, Nov 10th; it started out at the farm as 1100 lbs. At the homestead, on Nov 9th, mostly, I trimmed back both ends and blasted off the sugary solution at the cuts with a water hose; also, I removed clinging fodder, and cleaned frass and whatnot from the stalks with a water hose.

As mentioned, the interval between harvesting the cane and grinding it was merely 4-5 days. As last year, I let my schedule drive the syrupmaking protocol when it should be and will be the other way around. It is preferable to store cane 2-4 weeks before grinding, in part because sucrose is hydrolyzed during storage. Extension scientists have put 50% as the ideal percentage of sugar that is sucrose for syrup production; I'd opt for leaving somewhat more for improved thickness and decreased darkening via the Maillard Reaction. In other words, the reducing sugars formed from sucrose hydrolysis react with amines in the syrup, and darken it. More, another time. I'm trying to make a point to Nedra that I really need a spectrophotometer so I can make rational plans for syrupmaking. (Right now, I have her believing that I am the only person who doesn't have one, so the movement is in the right direction.)

We began grinding about 1630, right after returning from the Allee trout installation. By turns, Christine and Harrison were stalk handlers (this was not their first gig: 2016); Will was the mill feeder, and I was assigned to be pomace-and-juice handler. As juice handler, I kept the stainless screens cleaned, and then filtered again through diaper into a 60-gallon stainless barrel that contained 6 1-gallon jugs of ice, which were changed out before we went to bed. Presently, I am assembling supplies to add an additional filtration step between the barrel and the kettle. I don't know whether this is a feasible idea as Junior Cashwell tried this idea with a pool filter and it clogged too frequently. Possibly, with cleaner juice going in, we might be able to make it work. At this point, the extra cost of a few whole-house filters would only be noise; this is a hobby and any thought of breaking even is folly.

Often a colloidal sediment forms in pure cane syrup. A first question is, Who cares? To a large extent, our preferences are controlled by advertisers. For example, there was a time when clarity of apple juice implied purity; now cloudy juice is "natural." My weak personal preference is for a clear syrup if all else is equal, but I do not consider a sediment to be a disqualifying fault of an artisanal product. Anyhow, a number of explanations have been put forth (incomplete skimming, e.g.), but my hypothesis, based on the sugar-industry literature, is production of polysacchrides by Leuconostoc mesenteroides and possibly other bacteria. Admittedly, my knowledge is thin, and my understanding of that limited knowledge is flimsy. Notwithstanding, ameliorative measures would include mill cleanliness and sanitation, reduction of turbidity in juice, rapid use of juice or stabilization (heat, cool, chemical). I address these points in turn: It is a challenge to clean a vertical, enclosed, animal-powered mill, but I always have started with the cleanest I can, which in 2016 included treatment with a food-grade sanitizer. In earlier years, I usually went from mill to kettle as fast as possible, but even that is slow (~2 h to grind, plus nominally 30 minutes to bring the juice up to temperature). When I store the juice overnight--as will become my habit--I try to cool it as soon as I can with ice bombs. Obviously, working at near-freezing temperatures would be an advantage (and that is another reason to delay grinding somewhat). This year, I added a step that may or may not be effective and is without precedent as far as I know. At the beginning of our juice accumulation, I added 25 g of lysozyme (~100 ppm, at the lower end of recommended rates for must treatment). Lysozyme is a food-grade processing aid, is derived from egg white, and would be removed with the skimmings; it is an enzyme that "attacks" the cell walls of Gram-positive bacteria, of which Leuconostoc is one. It may or may not be beneficial: I did not have colloidal sediment this year, but then again, I didn't last year, either, when I didn't use lysozyme. There are a number of stupifying knowable unknowns (e.g. Leuconostoc replication as a function of temperature, stability of lysozyme, stimuli for polysacchride secretion) and my stab at this problem is akin to the game of pinning the tail on the donkey. But, since lysozyme is inexpensive and harmless, I'll probably continue with its use; it may help, and the only drawback is cost, again, noise in the overall scheme.

If my interpretation of the colloidal sediment is correct, the factors that govern polymer aggregation might be considered, especially concentration (explaining why it is less problematic with corn-syrup/cane-syrup blends). A second possibility is temperature. I cannot say that my 2013 observation is repeatable, but in that one experiement (1/2 gallon mason jars), sediment formed in rapidly cooled syrup (transferred to refrigerator immediately) but not in slowly cooled syrup. Given all the time, I'd follow up, but would of course prefer to focus on inhibition of polymer synthesis and not management of its state.

Watching juice flow from a mill seems to be an endless pleasure! Click on the thumbnail (below right) to download an FLV file (Adobe Media Player). If you have your browser set, as I do, to automatically launch this type of file, it will appear in a new window. Otherwise, go to your Downloads folder. Alternatively, if you want to view it in MOV (Quicktime), click here. Be patient; these are large files. (I regret the awkwardness of access, but I did not want to put *.exe files required to incorporate the video directly into the html file on the server I use, and I opted not to use video sites such as Vimeo. Besides, I am not very handy with this business.)

The output of our mill was about 35 gph (less than the dreamers who wrote the catalog). Our extraction rate was high, ~63% (cf. 2016 @ 46%, a result of smaller-bore cane; see this link). The brix was also high for an early harvest (18.0°), cf. 19.8° for the 2016 crop in the fourth week of November.

We were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Saturday morning (below left), ready to have a day of syrupmaking and other homestead activities. Note, in the background, that I try to isolate steam by hanging a drop-cloth from the ceiling and weighting it down with a light chain.

I have always used invertase, one way or another, to invert a portion of the sucrose. (For details, here.) Were I making more syrup, I'd certainly take a first making of semi-syrup, treat it with invertase to completely hydrolyze all the sucrose, then add back portions to subsequent batches to achieve the desired percentage. (Am I really trying to convince myself to make more syrup?) As I have done it, I try to catch the right percentage on the fly by adding a specific amount of invertase and holding it at a specific temperature for a specific period. There are, really, too many variables to control, but it has usually been fine. Last year, we did have a small amount of sugaring and the dreaded moment of having to replace my invertase was on hand. In former times, the late indefatigable Dr. Morris Bitzer (more), Executive Secretary of the NSSPPA, purchased enzymes for sorghum production and piggy-backed an order of invertase for me. The source had a $1000 minium order, but through his generosity, I was able to obtain what I needed very inexpensively. This year, I used CK Invertase (primarily used by candy makers to prevent crystallization, e.g. in the fillings for chocolate-covered cherries). With some effort, I learned that this product was the same as Max-Invert, which allowed me to calculate comparable strengths based on specific activities. I used 5 mL for a batch, but it was inadequate (maybe in part because the cane didn't age and in part because I overshot my thickness, discussed later). I'll get it right again.

While syrup was in the making, Nedra had her hands full in the house. She and Christine (below, right) are preparing orange sauce from Ambersweet "oranges." These probably are Nedra's favorite, but this cultivar didn't catch on commerically. The rumor is that the growers pushed it to grow too much in the beginning. I enjoy watching Christine learn from Nedra. And, I enjoy having the children enjoy picking fruit.

Cooking syrup down is easily a one-person job, so Harrison and Will moved pomace (below, left) and generally tidied up.

(This paragraph was edited after this page was posted and I obtained a new refractometer purchased especially for this purpose.) Taking up is the only stressful time. I use a thermometer until a boiling point of 223F is reached, then I switch over to hydrometry and aim for 34.5° Baumé at the temperature of boiling syrup (equivalent to 38-39° Baumé at room temperature). Once I called syrup, there was an unexpected delay due to clogging of the flannel I used as the final filter. As a result, some syrup remained in the kettle too long and the final syrup density reached 42.3° Baumé (73F with a stem calibrated for 60F). This is thick "tear your biscuit" syrup that remains liquid until opened, then it will sugar. But, it had a heavenly taste (bottom, right), and it warms my heart to see the sense of accomplishment on a child's face when it is all finished and bottled (2016 image). The viscosity ("thickness") of a syrup depends on its density and type of sugar. I made additional measurements, but there are caveats: a) the instruments I use are not research quality and the recorded values are extrapolations between marks. b) The exact reading on the stem requires some judgement to select the meniscus. First, I made refractometry measurements using my honey refractometer (HF, close to 20 years old, made in the Czech Republic, and individually numbered) and a new refractometer (SR, mass manufactured in China, also having a Baumé scale). Both are automatically temperature compensated. Using old honey as a sample, the following water percentages were recorded: 17.3 (HF) and 17.2 (SR). (To avoid fermentation, honey must be less than 18.6% water.) The concordance of these measurements is consistant with a conclusion that they are accurate (enough). Second, I measured 2016 syrup with the following results: 21.3 (HR) and 21.5 (SR). On the SR, the Baumé reading was 40.9 (temperature compensated, recall). On blind replication, the values were the same. Third, using hydrometry, the value I obtained was 40.8 (73F), indicating that I generally make syrup thicker than recommended. Fourth, I turned to the 2017 syrup, the percentage water was 20.5 (HF) and 20.2 (SR). On the SR, the Baumé reading 41.5°. With these benchmarks, I will probably switch over to refractometry.

After the syrup campaign concluded, we turned our attention to other agenda items. Under Nedra's watchful eye and expert guidance, Christine learned an essential survival skill--making biscuits. I will insist that she practice each time she comes. Regrettably, I do not have an image of that coming-of-age event.

We celebrated Harrison's birthday late this year. What a focussed child, when he is interested (below, left) as he was when he and Nedra decorated his cake. The finished cake (below, right) tells a story for us. When they visit, we always make wildlife part of the experience. We put out food for the critters and study tracks together. It is a highlight for the children and, I think, builds respect and empathy. Harrison insisted on the placement of the rabbit on the rolled wafer. I had a part in prominent placement of the fox because we had at least three residents in our backyard. They suppress both cats and squirrels, a very very good thing. Unfortunately, the children did not get to see one, although I did while they were here. I've not seen one since but have continued to feed them and the food has disappeared each night. Inexplicably, the squirrels have became bolder and the cats have returned for their annoying noisy rituals on our porch and their forget-me-nots in the sandy walkway from the house to the syrup shed. To get to the bottom of it, I set up a camera, and to be short, I've been out-possumed. A fat one, and baffled (FLV file ) at how to take several eggs at once. Frustrated at first, then I realized he can't help being a possum anymore than I can help being a human.

I "caught" Harrison and Christine (below left) going through a bookshelf. Why this particular book (A List of Early Settlers of Georgia) interested them, I don't know. I do know why it caught my attention: how would I otherwise know who the early vignerons were? That's important. More import than anything, though, is Will's devotion to Harrison and Christine. One day in the distant future, I hope they stumble on this page and know how precious they were to all of us. They have structured reading as did Will when he was growing up. He also reads their books so he can discuss them. Like Nedra, they read for pleasure. I do not; I read for content, which is pleasurable. But it is a spectrum, and Will reads all over it for pleasure and work. Christine's present focus is The Lost Hero; Harrison's, Wildwood; Will's, The Stand, Nedra's, Natchez Burning.

Morning--the last one of this trip--rolled around, and tradition of jogging in our driveway was renewed (below right), but unfortunately, I can't join them anymore, but enjoy it vicariously. Christine was very polite and did not show up the boys, but she could have (she was first in fitness in her entire school in 2016, says her proud granddad).

After the exercise, we had a scrumptious brunch at the Blue Halo, and had to return home so our visitors could meet their plane.

Our visit concluded with a family portrait on the front porch. Another year has come and gone.


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