Fall in South Georgia from October through the end of the year is still syrup making time -the time that sugar cane is cut and cane syrup produced. In the 1890s, one of the biggest producers of cane syrup and cane sugar in Berrien County was William C. Patten. His production was noted for the use of the Chattanooga Evaporator, which allowed for continuous processing of the juice into syrup, rather than the “batch processing” done in the broad iron kettle of the home farmer.
It is said that sugar cane cultivation was first introduced into south Georgia by John Moore when he moved to Lowndes County around 1828. By 1876, Sugar cane became one of the staple crops of Wiregrass Georgia, Berrien County, and of Ray City. Every farmer had a small cane mill on his farm for pressing the cane to extract the juice, which was cooked down in a cast iron kettle to make syrup. Hundreds of gallons of cane syrup could be produced from a single acre of sugar cane.
Local syrup producers over the years have included the likes of Jehu Patten (1838-1907), farmer of the Rays Mill (now Ray City) District, who in 1896 had “300 gallons of syrup jugged and sealed,” as well as his home produced cane sugar; Levi J. Clements (1851-1924, patriarch of the Clements family and founder of the Clements Lumber Company at Ray City; David C. Clements (1857-1902) who shipped his Georgia cane syrup from Ray City to markets as far as Texas; Moses C. Lee (1853-1926), exemplary farmer of Ray City, who in a year “jugged and barreled 750 gallons of syrup, of the finest that can be made”; Della Outlaw (1891-1932) made cane syrup on what is today the W. H. Outlaw Centennial Farm near Ray City, and bottled it for sale in Nashville, GA (Today, her grandson, Bill Outlaw, makes cane syrup in the family tradition); David Jackson Skinner (1898-1962), a farmer of the Ray City, GA area and a Deacon of New Ramah Church put up his syrup in cans; Wiley Chambless (1832-1888) was a Berrien county farmer who grew “red” and “red ribbon” cane; J. McMillan, J.J. McMillan and J.L. Harper, of Alapaha together produced 25 barrels of cane syrup for shipment in 1885; J.N. Bray, of Berrien County, in 1908 produced 2000 gallons of cane syrup; George W. Leggett (1846-1922) shared the use of his syrup making equipment with family and friends.
The December 14, 1894 the Tifton Gazette reported about William C. Patten’s cane syrup processing:
Mr. W. C. Patten is perhaps the largest sugar cane producer in Berrien County. He uses a Chattanooga Evaporator and it takes about a month to convert his cane crop into sugar and syrup. He lives about five miles north of Milltown. He produces a plenty and to spare of “hog and hominy.”
William C. “Babe” Patten (1849-1944), was a resident of the “Watson Grade” community, near Empire Church just northeast of Ray’s Mill, GA . Watson Grade was the location of the Watson family farm and the home of Sam I. Watson, among others
William C. Patten was a son of William Patten and Elizabeth “Betsey” Register. He married Sarah Lee, who was the daughter of Moses Corby Lee and Jincy Register. A prominent farmer of Berrien County, GA, William C. Patten was a Notary Public and Ex Officio Justice of the Peace. When his wife’s niece, Jennie Lee, married Samuel I Watson in 1900, it was W. C. Patten who performed the ceremony. W.C. Patten, after the death of his first wife, married Sam Watson’s sister, Laura Watson.
The Chattanooga Evaporator
The evaporator is generally placed down hill from the cane mill so that gravity can be used to get the juice from the mill to the evaporator. The evaporator is a shallow pan about three and one-half feet wide by from five to fifteen feet long. Chattanooga evaporators have partitions about nine inches apart, with a small opening or gate at alternate ends to make the juice flow back and forth across the evaporator.
The evaporator rests on a furnace made of steel or brick. Pine wood is considered the best fuel, as it makes a quick, flashing fire and gives more uniform heat the full length of the pan. The aim is to keep a constant flow of juice into, and from, the evaporator. About thirty minutes after the juice enters the evaporator it leaves it as a clear, delicious syrup.
The picture [above] shows a real South Georgia syrup maker. The quality of the syrup depends a great deal on the skill of the “cooker.” As the juice begins to boil a thick, slimy, green scum rises, bringing with it all the impurities. This is skimmed off and thrown into a barrel.
Just a word about that barrel. Sometimes it becomes the focal point of a great deal of attention, such as might arouse the curiosity of the uninitiated. After the skimmings have stood a while a certain amount of juice settles at the bottom, and that juice develops a kick that would bring happiness to prohibition sufferers could they get a chance at it.
On account of the rapid evaporation, the vapor or “steam” sometimes completely hides the outfit, but the cooker plies his ladle, skimming the juice, dipping and throwing back and occasionally raising the ladle and allowing the syrup from the finishing end of the evaporator to drip off. If the “cooker” is an old hand he knows from the way the syrup “acts” when it is done. The inexperienced cooker tests the syrup with a type of hydrometer known as a saccharometer. – The Harvester, May, 1921