and Mary Prescott (Lakeland, Florida)
A seemingly wrong turn after
visiting my dear Aunt Bessie put me on the road in front
of Bill and Mary Prescott’s place. It would probably
have been pointless for me to try to resist the dual
temptations of citrus AND a syrup business, so I yielded
and pulled in without a struggle. Mary, a retired
school-bus driver, and Bill, a retired railroad man, have
a thriving venture. Bill grew up in Folkston, GA, and his
dad had made syrup. The ready market for syrup in their
area, their interest in the old ways, the gift of a mill
(which he retrieved from South Carolina), and they were in
business. After talking with them for a few minutes, they
seemed like friends to us.
The Prescotts have a
pick-your-own citrus operation, and I digress for a moment
to mention their refined taste. The first tree to catch my
attention was a Ponkan mandarin, which is in my
Top-Fifteen-Citrus favorites. This is a superb fruit, to
grocery-store citrus what home-grown tomatoes are to the
pink fiber-fill ornaments that are passed off as tomatoes
to unwary consumers. The Ponkan is grown throughout the
world where its sprightly flavor, kid-glove skin, and
meaty texture are appreciated. However, other
qualities-strongly alternate bearing, poor shipping,
upright growth, cold-sensitivity of most strains compared
with other mandarins, and brittle limbs-preclude its use
as a commercial variety in the U.S. Of course, we took
some with us just as if I did not have a two boxes of
satsumas still in cold storage.
1 is a photograph of the cane field in early February.
In this central-Florida location, there was green around
the stubble. Especially of interest to me was the small
offset tractor (a Farmall Cub or similar), similar to the
one my grandfather used for high value crops like tobacco
2, shows Mr. Prescott with his Golden No. 2 (New Model).
On Mr. Prescott’s retirement, his boss gave him this
mill . . . surely beats a pocket watch! This mill appears
to be in good shape, and it is certainly maintained well,
but the worn grooves on the king roller tell a story of
many long days of pressing cane.
The filter that is used for the
juice is a very fine metal mesh, which was intended for
the maple-syrup industry. An early bulletin indicated that
small particles of cane in the juice burn during cooking
and impart color. It is tempting therefore to speculate
that the light color of the Prescott syrup might be
related to the extra-fine filtration of the juice.
3, depicts the 50-gallon kettle, which is mounted into
a wood-heated furnace. Mary (left) contributed quite a bit
about the operation, and for her part, my wife, Nedra
(right), listened as she does on these syrup trips.
4, shows Bill with his stainless-steel dipper. Mr.
Prescott judges when the syrup is ready by filling the
dipper (perhaps 8 quarts), pulling it out of the boiling
syrup and counting to 40. If the syrup is still boiling,
it is ready to take up and he then blends the syrup with
“just enough” corn syrup to prevent sugaring . Though
not directly, Bill’s corn syrup comes from Charles
Mary sewed together six
thicknesses of cheesecloth in bands, about 6” wide
(shown behind Bill). These bands are wound around the
outside of the rim to filter the syrup as it boils over.
Many syrup makers use burlap similarly as a filter.
5 is the bottling container, which is stainless.
Personally, I like the combination of the cast-iron kettle
and other components of stainless steel.