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Food + Cooking

Cane Syrup Confidential

How I came to pack a flask for my son.
cane syrup

This past Sunday, I weaned my son, Jess, from maple syrup. It was a small victory. But an important one.

My people are cane syrup soppers. I grew up in Georgia, where ribbon cane—a variety grown not for sugar but for syrup—was (and is) prized.

I recall, as a young boy, watching mules circle a mill, powering the gears that crushed the stalks. I remember, come fall, watching old men tend tin kettles, stoked with wood fires, as they boiled down the free-run juice into a deep umber syrup.

Jess and I are not alone in our (now mutual) devotion to cane syrup. And I am not alone in my recollections of syrup past. Harry Crews, in A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, his gut punch of a memoir, recalled a breakfast of his Georgia youth: “I opened the safe, took a biscuit off a plate, and punched a hole in it with my finger. Then, with a jar of cane syrup, I poured the hole full, waited for it to soak in good, and then poured again.”

Jess and I weren’t plugging biscuits like Crews. We were working a far more mundane palate, pouring ribbon cane—harvested, boiled, and bottled by George Hall of Greene County, Alabama—on buttermilk-flavored toaster waffles.

Nonetheless, after too many maple syrup-drenched mornings, Jess got the point. Here was a brawnier syrup. No Maine tree treacle for him. Here was a Southern syrup. Here was a syrup with some funk, some resonance.

As Jess mopped his plate with a tear of waffle, I reached for the jug of syrup and began filling a half-pint flask, previously filled with whiskey. Come Monday, we’re making a Huddle House run. And I’m thinking that a glug of the good stuff from my flask will—when compared to the flavored corn-syrup goo the restaurant provides—prove a far better complement to a pecan waffle.


Steen’s, from Abbeville, Louisiana, is the most widely distributed cane syrup. It’s thick, molasses-y stuff.

Hall’s Homemade Syrup, from Bolligee, Alabama, is lighter, more floral. (Call 205-372-4255)