Great-grandsons of Lonnie Cade, Andrew Meads, left, and Justin White, feed the cane crusher, to
extract the juice, for the syrup making.
"Raising Cane" on the
Banks of Lake Fork
by: Bobby McDonald
"We raised alot of cane this year!" exclaimed Andrew Meads and Justin White, great-grandsons of Lonnie Cade, on a frosty November morning, near Lake Fork, in Wood County, as they extracted the sweet juice from ribbon cane, to continue the family tradition of syrup making.
"We barely had enough for seed cane, from last year's crop, due to the drought and we didn't make any syrup, last year," the explained. "But, this year the crop has been outstanding. We still have cane in the field that needs to be cut. It's amazing how much the weather plays in crop success!"
It was on this frosty morning that we "caught up" with the descendents of Lonnie and Iva Gilbreath Cade, as they are now in their sixth generation of syrup making on the family farm, south of Yantis. The process began when John Andrew Jefferson Davis "Jeff" Cade, father of Lonnie Cade, located to the area following the Civil War. Jeff's mother, widowed from the war, followed members of her family to Northeast Texas and reared Jeff Cade in the area, where he learned the art of syrup making from his relatives. In kind, he taught his son, Lonnie Cade, how to make syrup and the almost "extinct" art of syrup making continues in the family, as a way for the family to combine togetherness, family history, and some "mighty fine" eating, when you pour the delicious syrup over hot and buttered biscuits.
Each spring, the family take the seed cane that they've stored in a wooden box, in the ground, below the freeze line, and plant the cane in rows on the family farm. Then, come November they cut the ribbon cane and bring it to the mill located behind the historic family home, and begin the process of extracting juice to cook for the syrup.
"Temperature of the juice is critical, to cook it to the consistency of syrup," explains Byron Meads, grandson of Lonnie Cade and chief syrup maker, in the family. "It takes the entire family to get the task complete, from extracting the juice, cooking the syrup, skimming it, and then delivering the end product to the special syrup buckets. And, then the women folk are always busy in the kitchen cooking sausage and biscuits, to keep everyone at the mill fueled!"
On the Saturday we arrived, even great-great-grandchildren were lending their hand at driving the "mechanical mule" that has replaced "Ol' Red" who use to provide the power for the crushing mill. From youngest to oldest family member, the entire family lends a hand in making the family syrup. Then, they take it back to their homes, scattered all over the state of Texas, to enjoy for the year.
They're bankers, financial advisors, teachers, accountants, housewives, and business managers, but on the second Saturday of each year, they're syrup makers on the family farm in Wood County, where they join forces and celebrate a family history that began in the area, almost 150 years ago.
The mule barn, still standing behind the house is empty of livestock, as is the grade-A dairy barn, beside the house, that once were filled with animals, but a family tradition is kept alive, to keep the family together, to enjoy a heritage that makes them special and celebrate life as it once was in Wood County.
"The syrup is special!" exclaimed Andrew Meads, as he fed stalks of ribbon cane into the mill and watched his two small sons pull each other in a wagon nearby. "It keeps us all together, enjoying a tradition that has become who we are, as we stay in touch with our foundations, here in Wood County!"
Enjoy these photos from the syrup making process that keeps this family together:
Cane is fed into the mill and crushed, with the juice flowing into a vat that feeds the cooking pans
by gravity flow.
Keeping the fire at just the right temperature is critical to cook the
syrup to the right consistency.
And, the next generation is being "trained" to
continue the tradition....
And, according to the syrup makers,
the most important element is plenty of
sausage and biscuits on a cold, frosty morn....