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Jim's story - Page 3

Written by James Needham Groom (b.1911-)

The next crop Iíll discuss is Ribbon Cane. It isnít as difficult to grow as cotton, but it was a very important part of the farmerís livelihood. When it grew to about 10í tall and matured, the juice was sweet. Not as sweet as sugar cane, but still sweet. The farmer took a cane knife which had a blade approximately 24 inches long, was 2 inches wide with a wooden handle. Using this knife, he went down the row slashing downwards. He cut away all the leaves, the head, then cut the stalk down. When he had a wagon load of these stalks, he hooked up his team and took them to a syrup mill. The operator of the syrup mill was an expert. The mill itself was two vertical rollers of steel, which could be adjusted to the exact width to crush the juice from the care stalks as they were fed into the rollers endwise a stalk at a time. These rollers were powered by a mule going around and around turning some gears which caused the rollers to turn. Under this was a vat made of metal, which caught the cane juice. When the vat was full or the cane stalks were all juiced, the syrup making took place.

A wood fire was built under the vat and the syrup cook took charge. If the juice was undercooked, the syrup was too thin and would ferment, making it very sour. Overcooking would make the syrup too thick and very strong, nearly uneatable. This is where the expertise of the syrup cook came in. As the syrup cooked, it foamed and boiled, he would have a cup of water into which he continually dropped drops with a spoon. He tested both the taste and the consistency. When he said itís ready, the fire was doused. The syrup cooled and poured into new gallon tin buckets. Half went to the mill operator and cook and half to the farmer. This was his yearís supply of sweets and no money changed hands and the farmer had one of the ingredients of the killer 3M diet - molasses.

Many people judged a farmer by the amount of corn he had in his crib in the fall, corn being food for everyone and every animal. A corn-fed horse had the strength and stamina to work at hard pulling jobs day after day. A hot, fattened on corn, produced firm, tasty solid pork, whereas a swill or slop fed pigís meat was spongy and of very poor quality. Corn-fed beef fat is marbled and yellow which is a must for prime beef, not that I remember of having every eaten any of it myself. Corn is a heavy feeder of both soil nutrients and water. I canít remember any commercial fertilizer so the best land was reserved for corn. There was also no hybrid seed. Each farmer saved the best, biggest ears for seed for next yearís crop. This open pollinated corn wasnít uniform and wasnít predictable as to height of the stalk or uniformity of ripening. The hybrid corn today ripens all at once, so the roasting ears last only a very short time, maybe four or five days, but the old open pollinated cornís roasting ear season lasted nearly a month. This was a big break for the families.

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