Focused on Mississippi: Walt Grayson takes us on a ‘sweet’ assignment

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Walt Grayson gets some sweet assignments sometimes, but this has to be the sweetest. We are going along with Walt to a syrup-makin’. It starts with sugar cane juice in the morning, and by afternoon it’s syrup. But there’s a long, hot day in between.

The one modern allowance here is the tractor to drive the cane mill. Used to, it would have been a horse or a mule. Other than that, this is exactly how Lafayette McDavid’s Daddy and Granddaddy and Great Granddaddy made cane syrup.

Now, his last name is spelled McDavid. But he pronounces it, “Lafayette McDade” McDade. I ain’t gonna argue. I figure the pronunciation is a throw back to old days, too, as is everything else being done here today.

But this is a tradition of fall, syrup making. Used to, this was a common sight. Now, not so much. Lafayette has a couple of mills he uses to squeeze the juice from the cane. Both are ancient. He ran both of them for us. Even the cane he uses is old. “I got a cane there that’s hundreds of years old. I just been keeping it going.”

As I figure it, that’s pretty much what this day is all about, “keeping it going,” traditions and memories and well, that and the syrup that you get at the end of the day. “Great memories about that grinding cane at this day and time.”

You have to boil off nine gallons of water for every gallon of syrup you wind up with. So after the squeezing is done and the pouring is finished and the boiling starts, things slow down considerably. During that period of time jokes are told, and probably some lies work their way into the conversation, too. Takes a while. Anything is likely to come up.

Jumping forward a few hours, here’s the end of the process and the other modern addition, a hydrometer that measures the amount of water that has been boiled off. An experienced syrup maker can tell you when it’s ready by looking at how it sheets off the strainers when it’s boiled down enough. But the red line on the hydrometer knows for sure.

Someone says, “There she is. It’s syrup now.”

And it’s another day of memories, to be filed away in the pages of the mind with all the other memories of all the other fall days of making syrup as the jars are filled and stored away to be opened and used all winter.

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