As you regular readers know, I've been growing sugar cane for a few years now. The kids love it, but I've wanted to do more with our crop than just hack chunks off for chewing. Last fall when I planted a big bed of sugar cane, I knew that at some point I'd have to figure out how to process it into something useful. Since distilling is apparently illegal, rum was out... but homemade cane syrup sounded like a winner. Plus, Rachel wanted it, so it had to be made.
This is how we did it.
Step 1: Harvest Some Canes
Cane harvesting is fun because you get to use a machete. Anything is better with a machete. I cut the canes close to the ground, then strip off the leaves and throw them over the "stumps" I leave behind. Because sugar cane is a cold-sensitive perennial, covering up the roots will keep the plant safe until next spring when a whole new batch of homegrown sugar will rise from the ground as soon as the soil warms up enough.
Step 2: Wash Those Canes
Step 3: Start Chopping 'em Up
Here's the big problem with sugar cane: it's full of fibers. You can't just put chunks in your juicer. I tried... and I don't think my Champion juicer will ever be the same. After multiple jam-ups and some smoking and shaking which only yielded about a half-cup of syrup, I realized it was pointless. Normally, sugar cane is processed with powerful presses that crush it flat and let the sugary juice run out. I don't have anything like this at home and couldn't figure out a good way to jury-rig something. Real presses are really expensive - and the Thai ones they often sell on e-bay are made for flattening squid, not crushing something as tough as sugar cane. Don't waste your money!
What we decided to do was simply chop the sugar cane into chunks, then quarter those segments. A good heavy meat cleaver works well for this.
Step 4: Boil the Chunks Of Cane
After chopping, we put the pieces into a large stockpot, covered them with water, then started boiling the sugar out of them. This takes some time and you have to make sure they stay covered with water, so top the pot off occasionally. As the cane cooks, it will lose its lustrous color and start to turn pale brown. Once the flavor of the water is the same as that of a chunk of the boiled sugar cane, you're ready to move on to the next step. This takes an hour or two - I let my tastebuds be my guide.
Step 5: Strain Out the Cane Fragments
Step 6: Boil It Down
Step 7: Finish and Jar the Syrup
Congratulations! You've made your own home-grown, organic, vegan, free trade, sustainably harvested, locavore-approved, non-GMO, gluten-free, amazingly delicious sugar cane syrup!
Sure, it's a lot easier to juice the cane first, rather than doing the chop n' boil... but if you're just a hobbyist like me who wants a few jars of syrup to give away at Christmas, this beats having to buy a specialized extractor or find a local cane mill. I bet it would also work for sorghum... try it and see.
As a final note: this stuff tastes absolutely amazing... you're gonna try it and love it.
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