Generation Syrup Maker ‘Sticking’ With the Art
chilly December breeze whipping around the syrup shed couldn’t fan the
yellow jackets away from the sweet stuff.
buzzed around the door and bumped softly into the window panes, just
hoping to find a way inside.
Edria Todd bottles and
labels every bottle of syrup that is made at Joe Todd’s Cane Syrup Farm
between Dothan and Cottonwood.
Joe Todd was having none of that. He was not about to have any ‘impurities’
in his syrup —- not even a yellow jacket coming to sample the
Joe Todd of Dothan is a
fifth generation syrup maker. His dad, L. D. Todd was the syrup maker in
the Pike County communities of Tennille and Hamilton Crossroads for many
years before and after the Great Depression. Todd also grows a huge garden
each year and peanuts and corn. He buys all of his seeds and plants from
his friends at the Houston County Farmers Co-op. The fertilizer for his
sugar cane is purchased at Altha Farmers Co-op in Mariana, which sells his
don’t have any impurities in my syrup, so the yellow jackets better
keep away," he said. "I don’t say it because it’s ours but
you just won’t find any syrup better than this."
was busy skimming the syrup and keeping track of the temperature of the
boiling, bubbling golden liquid.
usually heat the syrup to 228 degrees but with this Louisiana syrup, I’m
just going to 222," he said. "It doesn’t have a lot of water
in it. We’ll get about 18 gallons of syrup out of this 80-gallon
kettle. That’s good.
wife bottles the syrup and she likes it pretty thick. It could come off
at 220 degrees but it would be too thin for her."
year alone, Joe and Edria Todd will make and bottle about 8,500 bottles
of cane syrup. That’s a lot of syrup for anybody to make anybody
except a fifth generation syrup maker.
thick and sticky as cane syrup is, there’s a good bit of doubt as to
whether it can get in a man’s blood.
Todd is living proof that it can.
is a fifth generation syrup-maker. Syrup is in his blood and he takes
great pride in that.
go back, at least, to my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Todd, who was a
syrup maker in Georgia," Todd said. "The story my dad, L.D.
Todd, told was that his dad, Billy Todd, then age 11, and his
grandfather, Thomas Todd, were stripping cane in late October 1864, when
they saw his dad, Eli Todd, walking home from the Civil War. The three
of them made syrup in the fall of 1864. So, I come from a long line of
Todd, was the syrup maker in the Tennille-Hamilton Crossroads area of
Pike County for many years, including the "Hard Times" years.
said the syrup makers of old were the lifeblood of rural Southern
communities during and after the Great Depression.
it had not been for the syrup makers, life would really have lost much
of its sweetness back then, Todd said.
the Depression, there was no money to buy sugar and all people had was
syrup for a sweetener," Todd said. "The syrup maker was one of
the most important people in the community. His services were
War II brought the country out of the Depression but, during wartime,
sugar was rationed so the syrup maker maintained his high status in the
daddy told me that he remembered loading a 28 Model panel truck with
syrup and, when they got to the grocery store, people were lined up
waiting to get it," Todd said.
Todd was ready to make a career choice in life, syrup making had become
more of a novelty than a necessity.
Taking up the syrup is a
satisfying time when the syrup is flowing gold.
Edria Todd has a unique way
of making biscuits. The heirloom recipe can be found in Todd’s Syrup
syrup making was in his blood so when he retired about 10 years ago, he
found his way back to the syrup kettle.
was just something that I wanted to do and I thoroughly enjoy it,"
Todd said. "That’s how we make our living now, with cane juice,
cane syrup, seed cane and chewing cane." Joe and Edria Todd have a
syrup business just outside of Dothan near Cottonwood and have found a
market for the sweet stuff year around.
acres might not seem like much but when it’s five acres of sugar cane,
it’s a lot," Todd said, laughing. "We plant a lot of
varieties of cane. In fact, we probably have the largest variety of
sugar cane in the state. We’ve got sugar cane, chewing cane, syrup
cane and seed cane." Todd said he favors syrup cane because it will
not crystallize on you.
sugar cane will," he said. "And, chewing cane is different
from the other canes. It’s got tiny fibers so it will wad up like
chewing gum. You have to know about cane and about the different
varieties if you’re going to be a syrup maker."
said the land and the way the syrup is made will depend on the quality
of the sweetener.
land is real important," he said. "You can’t plant cane on
land that has impurities on it. If you do, you’ll get syrup that’s
so bitter you can’t eat it."
case in point is a Louisiana variety of sugar cane that’s so clear and
pretty that its syrup looks like gold – a Todd specialty.
went to Louisiana and got the cane and brought it home and planted
it," Todd said. "When we made syrup from it, you couldn’t
eat it because it had that wild taste – that bitter taste. I couldn’t
figure it out. Then, I remembered that peanuts had been
planted on that
land. The chemicals that had been used on the peanuts gave the cane that
wild taste. The next year, the syrup was edible
and the next year it was
even better. All of the impurities were out of it. Now, the syrup that
comes off that land is as light and golden as it can be. I learned that
you can’t plant cane behind peanuts."
said some weekend syrup makers don’t know how to make cane syrup and,
in their attempt, they give cane syrup a bad name.
an art to making cane syrup," he said. "If you don’t know
how to make it, you’re going to come up with a syrup that has a wild,
bitter taste that nobody is going to want. We work hard to make sure
that Todd’s Syrup is best that you can buy and we’ll stand by
Todds don’t have to stand by their cane syrup very long. It has become
a favorite syrup of the Wiregrass area of Alabama and, if they could
make more, they could sell more.
have compiled a Todd Syrup Recipe book that is filled with heirloom
recipes that will turn a newly wed into a cook "just like
grandma." "We’re glad to share the recipes and love to talk
syrup making to anybody that will listen and learn," Todd said.
Todds can be reached at 334-677-7804.
Jaine Treadwell is a
freelance writer from Brundidge.