Appalachia Preserving/Canning

Memories of Syrup Making Days

girls skimming syrup

Chitter skimming syurp

“When I was young, I always looked forward to the late summer because it meant syrup-making time. We usually had a patch of cane, and Grandpa and I regularly walked through the tall cane so he could check the seed heads to see if the cane was ripe enough to harvest. I enjoyed walking through the cane because I imagined that I was in a deep jungle. I would have liked to play in the cane “jungle,” but that was not allowed.

After one of the strolls through the cane, Grandpa announced that the heads were ripe and we would begin “stripping and cutting” the cane the next day. Now the “stripping and cutting” of the cane was one part of the syrup-making process that I would like to have been excused from because it was a lot of hard work.

Early the next morning, the whole family hit the cane patch with Daddy, Mama, and Grandpa cutting the cane stalks and placing them in piles. Estelle and I were dragging our feet and doing as little work as possible. Our job was to cut the seed heads from the stalks and put them in baskets to save for chicken feed. We did manage to contribute enough labor to keep Daddy reasonably happy.”

—Jack Parker – Remembering Syrup Making Days – “Reflections on Mountain Heritage”


The piece by Parker is an excerpt from the book “Reflections on Mountain Heritage” published by the Gilmer County Genealogical Society, Inc.

It’s a treasure trove of information about Mountain Life.

If you’d like to pick up your own copy you can find it here for a very reasonable price.


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  • Reply
    Auther Ray
    September 10, 2020 at 4:35 pm

    My Grandpa used to have a sorghum mill and made sorghum syrup every fall, I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I still love sorghum especially on bakes sweet potatoes and ham.

  • Reply
    Auther Ray
    September 10, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    One of my favorite words is ‘Swig’, as in take a swig of water or milk and most of all is a swig of moonshine.

  • Reply
    Auther Ray
    September 10, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    My Grandpa used to have a sorghum mill and made sorghum syrup every fall. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I still love sorghum especially on baked sweet potatoes and ham.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    September 10, 2019 at 7:58 am

    Pardon my mistake in my comment when crushing the cane and turning it into juice and pummies (the crushed stalks),the single tree which was attached t the chains on the horse’s harness was attached to the small end of the sweep pole not the larger as I erroneously stated.The horse walked in a circle around the mill following the smaller pole attached to the sweep pole and pulling the small end of the sweep which turned the rollers crushing the juice out of the cane.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 9, 2019 at 10:23 pm

    I raised a lot of cane a lot up on Wiggins Creek but there is only one time when it was the kind you make syrup out of. Daddy raised a field of cane down the road on land Grandmaw had leased. I remember stripping it and saving the fodder to take home to feed the animals. We took the stalks across through Hightower Gap and down to Locklog Creek. Everett Wikle had a mill set up on the lower side of the road and a cooker on the other. All I can remember about boiling down the juice was the green foam that accumulated on top and someone incessantly skimming it.
    I’m sure there was more syrup making being done around me at the time but this little tidbit is all that I can recall. You know getting old does that to a body. You can remember a precious few of the sweet things in life but the ugly ones seem never to fade.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    September 9, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    This brings back a lot of memories, some pleasant some not so much. Making syrup required a lot of hard work from the planting through the pouring up of the molasses. I remember the cutting of the seed heads, stripping the fodder, cutting the stalks and hauling them to the mill, these were all part of my job then my Dad ground the stalks through the mill with the juice flowing into a #10 tub with a cheese cloth covering to keep any trash and or Yellow Jackets out of the juice. We had a spigot soldered on the tub with a hose where we could control the flow of the juice to another tub down next to the river where the boiler was located. My Grandpa was the cooker and we used a boiler (like Chitter) instead of an evaporator since you could better control the cooking, an evaporator runs the juice through to fast and leaves a lot of uncooked juice which will turn to sugar and not keep like slow cooked syrup will. Grandpa used the tub where the juice ran to from the tub at the mill to fill the boiler and add juice if needed during the cooking. Grandpa had a homemade skimmer like Chitter is using and a wooden scraper to keep the syrup from sticking to the copper bottom of the boiler which we had built with a medium thick sheet of copper. We used a horse to power the mill, the sweep pole which attached to a metal plate that sat down on top of one of the mill rollers which had teeth on the top which meshed with matching teeth on the other roller. This sweep pole had a smaller pole attached to a hole in the larger end of the sweep at a ninety degree configuration, the horse’s reins was fastened to the smaller end of the smaller pole and the harness attached to a single tree which was attached to the larger end of the sweep. When Grandpa decided the syrup was done it had a lighter bronze color since with the boiler you could cook all the green out without scorching the syrup. The next step required four people to lift the boiler and pour the syrup in five gallon cans which we would transfer to what ever size jar or jug a person wished to purchase. We always kept the skimmings and mixed them with ground corn and fodder to feed the cattle. Though this involved a lot of labor intensive work and drew Yellow Jackets from several counties I enjoyed it since this was the only time I got to miss school and we always wrapped potatoes in the hot coals under the boiler to enjoy when ever you wanted one, during the course of the day this called for several potatoes, I still love potatoes baked in hot coals with freshly churned butter. These were hard times but good times. I still have our mill but I haven’t made syrup in years, We usually made between three hundred to three hundred and fifty gallons of syrup a year. I talked to a couple from Franklin a couple of months ago who commented that they wished we still made molasses as it was the best they ever had, it made me feel good that all our hard work was appreciated.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 9, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    In 2017 Chitter and Chatter sung “The Family that Prays”, and I really like it. I’ve been listening to them for hours and of everything I’ve ever heard, they are my Favorites, especially the Harmony.

    Tipper sent me a link the other day of some Inspirational Hymns by The Malpass Brothers. I listened to it and thought it was Great. But after that, I found some more songs by the Malpass Brothers on Youtube where the older brother sounds like Merl Haggard. It’s: Song of the Mountains. They imitate others too, like Marty Robbins and Charlie Pride. …Ken

  • Reply
    September 9, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Yummy , …. :), so so tasty.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 9, 2019 at 11:48 am

    I never was around the the cane growing and processing. It seems to me that didn’t happen in the mountains as much as in the flatter areas. My dad sure loved molasses and so did my grandpa. They ate some at every meal.

  • Reply
    September 9, 2019 at 10:10 am

    I find anything interesting about mountain heritage. There are so many similarities in experiences growing up, and the words and phrases so familiar even if the mountaineer was a few states away. However, I was never able to experience anything about a cane patch, because it did not grow where I lived. I was one of those rare children who loved work, and my happiest days were spent working outdoors. I would have loved to help with the cane patch. Another thing we missed out on in the WV mountains is making molasses. These would be great things to put on a bucket list, but will leave them off since I’d now probably have to sit and rest every few minutes. Thanks to Jack Parker for his reflections.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 9, 2019 at 9:55 am

    We never fooled with Syrup when I was growing up, but I saw tobacco houses in Robbinsville that our Pastor had. His name was Frank James and he Baptized me when I was about 9. Daddy was friends with him and on Sundays after Church, mama and daddy would invite them over for dinner. This meant that Harold and I had to wring a couple of chicken’s necks. We both hoped that they would save the pulley-bones for us. Mama could fix the best tasting chicken you ever put in your mouth on our ole wood stove. Those were the days of fun…and innocence. …Ken

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    September 9, 2019 at 9:25 am

    I remember one of the mules turning the thing (what is it called?) that crushed the juice out of the canes. I tend to think it was sorghum but don’t know for sure. Childhood memories are strange–I remember the exact spot this was done at but nothing about processing –maybe it was done elsewhere.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    September 9, 2019 at 8:13 am

    Dad never raised sorghum cane to make molasses but did raise a few patches for wildlife. Every year for many years he would take us to a friend’s farm who did. Sometimes he would put us to stripping the cane. No fun. Later we would cut a short piece of cane and dip in the cooking juice. No one thought anything about germs being in the boiling liquid. Dad’s friend made really good molasses. They were light in color, unlike what I mostly see today which are almost as black as blackstrap molasses. I think this is caused by not stripping the blades off. Not too many years ago my Wife and I went to one of those old fashioned days celebrations and they ran the stalks and blades through the press which was run by a motor instead of a mule going round and round. The sorghum was so black I wouldn’t buy any. Dad would tell us you needed good loamy ground, strip the blades, and someone that knew how to cook sorghum to have good molasses.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 9, 2019 at 8:03 am

    We never grew cane for sorghum, though my Dad always liked to have “good” sorghum in the house. I can’t recall anybody locally who made it, though surely there must have been a few.

    I expect there will be sirghum making at Mountain Farm Days at Oconnaluftee Visitor Center on the 21rst of this month.

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