Sing a Sweet, Sad Song

Published 6:12 pm Friday, December 29, 2023

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The recent death of Joe Todd, of Todd Farms in Headland, perhaps, brought the curtain down on the old-time cane syrup makers in and around Pike County.

Joe Todd, a fifth-generation syrup maker, learned to make cane syrup from his father while growing up just down the road in Tennille. He was proud to carry on the long family tradition of syrup making that started in Pike County in 1935.

Perrie McCartha, the syrup maker from Ariton died, not too long.

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Both Todd and McCartha were masters of syrup making. Perrie made his syrup in a three-sided wood shed with bees buzzing all round. He cooked his syrup in a pan that worked like a maze. When the juice worked its way through the maze, it was syrup.

Joe Todd cooked learned to cook syrup in a kettle with fire going up under it with bees buzzing. his But after retirement from law enforcement, he made syrup a bit differently. His kettle was in an enclosed area away from the elements but the kettle had to be manned, stirred and skimmed just the same.  One of Todd’s kettles was located adjacent to his “museum” of antique farm equipment. The two being adjacent offered him the opportunity talk “shop” with those who came to see how syrup was made and taste its sweetness.

Although their methods differed, both Todd and McCartha made syrup the way of the old timers.

Joe Todd and I renewed our acquaintance several years ago over syrup and biscuits at his place. Joe was the chief syrup cook and his wife, Edria, was the biscuit baker. And, she baked “a” biscuit that filled the large, iron frying pan. We ate the whole thing over shared stories of longing and laugher.

Over the years, I was fortunate to spend syrup-making time with both master syrup makers. I enjoyed just being at syrup cookings. I loved the distinct taste of the sweet, sticky, syrup and the fellowship of those who manned the “kettles.”

Thinking back to my childhood, I slipped off and sipped fresh cane juice from a tin dipper at a cane grinding. I got a “tearing up” from Mama for drinking “after people.”

That thought brought about the remembrance of Mr. Grover Poole and how, each year, he would bring me two gallons of the sweetest cane juice ground especially by him and Donna Gail.

Joe Todd’s death took me back to those “sweetest times of the year” and, also, sadly, to those I’ll never see again and to places I can never go again.