This is a guest post to Illuminations for the Great Rare Books Bake Off by Emily McClellan.
For five generations, my family has spent Thanksgiving at our family farm, making 100% cane syrup in our cane mill. It’s a fact I’ve hung my hat on my entire life, one that every single one of my cousins has done a project on at some point in our lives, and a source of pride and tradition within my dad’s side of the family. Every year of my life, my dad’s entire life, my grandpa’s entire life, and two generations before THAT, have repeated the same process every year to create the end product that is 100% pure cane syrup. There is nothing like a warm biscuit covered in hot, fresh, golden syrup. Of course, Coronavirus has thrown a wrench in our plans for this year. We’ll be doing 2 cookings of cane syrup, as opposed to our average of 4-5, and replanting as much as we can for next year.
I won’t go into the entire process, but as a bit of background on how the
sauce syrup is made, you start by planting your cane. Then you strip the cane of its leaves. You then cut the tops of the cane off. Just when it’s time to start making the syrup, you cut the cane from the base of the plant. Once you have all of the cane compiled (approximately 1 trailer = 1 cooking), you start the juicing process. The cane is juiced and stored in a holding container. Once all cane is juiced, it’s sent via pipes to the kettles to cook for 6-8 hours. It must be constantly skimmed to remove dirt and impurities. The syrup must reach a certain density that is taken by a hydrometer. Once it’s ready, it will be scooped into the trough, strained, and put in a warming container. Once in the warming container, the syrup is sent via a pipe system to a control that lets us fill each glass bottle of syrup by hand.
Now to the cookies themselves. This recipe comes courtesy of my Great Aunt Norma McClellan Starling. My dad is very good at making these cookies. I had actually never made them completely by myself before!
To be completely honest, I thought this whole process was going to be way more complicated than it actually was. I will say, my parent’s kitchenaid mixer helped A LOT. In fact, these cookies can’t really be made by hand. They also can’t be made without Crisco. Okay technically they can be made with butter. But sometimes you really do have to use Crisco, and that’s okay.
After mixing the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately, I mixed the two together. I did not let them chill for an entire hour (due to time restrictions), and instead only let them chill for about 20 minutes. I then took them out and used a small scoop, formed them into balls and rolled them in sugar.
The resulting cookies were SO GOOD. They were warm, soft, delicious and made the house smell like Fall. They were given 5/5 stars by my dad – high praise!
The last little piece that I wanted to add were photos from our family archive. In the middle of the map, to the right of “Oak Ridge Pecan Orchards”, you’ll see “McClellan’s Store” – where we still sell syrup when we can.