The Poole’s cane sugar the old fashion way

Published 11:00 pm Friday, December 14, 2012

The buck-wheat chatter of the eight guineas was silenced by the thundering hooves of a Belgian horse named Frank.

The big workhorse bolted and ran when Grover Poole brought out the harness to hitch him to the cane mill.

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The 2000-pound Belgian is as smart as he is a fine animal. He saw the truckload of sugar cane that was to be ground. He saw the harness and he put two and two together. And, he ran.

Poole was not about to say that Frank’s run from work was because he was lazy.

“He’s just not worked the cane mill enough,” he said with a smile. “Frank’s a work horse and he’ll be as good any I’ve had. It will just take a little time.”

Poole and Carl Hussey corralled Frank and soon had him “at work.”

“Frank’s 10 years old and I’ve raised him,” Poole said. “He’s going to work good.”

And, Frank will need to “work good.” He has big shoes to follow — those left by Donna Gail, who was, by all accounts, a “mighty fine horse” and worked the mill like a master miller.

Poole has long had good Belgian and Percheron horses. They’ve pulled wagons and worked the cane mill.

“It’s not where I can hitch up the wagon anymore but I still love to grind cane,” he said. “I’ve done it all my life. When I was eight years old, I’d get up and grind a barrel of cane juice before I went to school. It’d be dark and I’d be grinding cane. I was work but it was a good kind of work.”

Poole grows enough sugar cane every year to grind barrels and barrels of cane juice.

“If you like cane juice, you like it,” he said, with a smile. “If you don’t, you don’t. A lot of folks, especially young folks, don’t like cane juice. Won’t even try it. But I love it. You won’t find any sweeter juice than cane juice – if it comes from good cane.”

Carl Hussey and Poole hitch Frank up every few days and grind enough cane for about 12 gallons of juice. And, that’s about how many people are waiting for it.

“There’s a lot a cane being grown and a good bit of syrup being made,” Poole said. “It takes 10 gallons of juice to make one gallon of syrup. Good cane syrup brings a good amount of money because there’s not a lot of it. Why, I’ve seen some cane syrup – good cane syrup — bring as much at $50 a gallon.”

Poole said those that stand over a hot, stick syrup kettle and fight off the yellow jackets deserve a good price for their syrup.

“There’s nothing better than a good hot biscuit – made with lard – and a poke hole filled with cane syrup,” he said. “Cane syrup tastes a whole lot different from the syrup you buy in stores and I like it a whole lot better.”

Poole said he, Hussey and Frank will work the cane mill a few more times and then he’ll call it quits for this year.

“This has been some of the sweetest juice we’ve had in a while,” he said. “I hate to see it come to an end. There’s not much I like to do better than grind cane these early winter days. Except see folks enjoy it.”

Poole makes his rounds, delivering cane juice to those who love it as much as he does.

“It brings back memories of times long ago,” he said. “I like to think back on those times.”

Those who would like to see a cane mill at work or who would like to sample the good old days, should call Poole at 334-566-4463 to see if, and when, Frank’s at work.