Jan 25, 2011

Burnin' Cane

Some people raise cane.
Some people raise it then burn it.
It's a cane farmer thing.

About 6 months after we were married, The Husband and I were traveling from Lafayette to New Orleans for the Holidays.  All of a sudden, he lowers the windows, sticks out his head and starts sniffing.  Like some deranged, ear flappin, tongue blowin in the wind dog on a car-ride high.

Have I married a crazy person?  It's 40 degrees (that's cold to us, ya'll).  Put the windows up!

"Smell that?" he asked.  Although it sounded more like a command.  "That's Christmas."
I took a whiff.  Was the whole I-10 corridor on fire?

Many cane farmers burn their fields just before harvest.  This burns off the "trash"--the leafy portions of the sugar cane plants.  According to the LSU Agcenter, field burns reduce waste and the cost involved in harvesting.  It's not without controversy due to the resulting smoke and ash.

One of The Husband's favorite childhood memories is smelling the burnt cane as his family drove to MaMa's house on Christmas Eve. 

I didn't grow up close enough to cane fields to smell the smoke, but I have my own associations.

When I lived in Lafayette, I was too far from the fields for the smoke.  But every fall when the burning started, my garden would be invaded by Southern green stink bugs.  People told me they were driven out of the fields by the fires.  I hated that!  So while The Husband has this warm fuzzy memory of burning cane, sometimes when I think about sugar cane, all I smell is stink bug. 

But there are good things I associate with sugar cane too.

One of my favorite novels, A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines, is set on a Louisiana sugar cane farm.  And I'd much rather think about this novel than smell stink bugs.  (I guess that's not much of an endorsement, though, is it?)

On The Boy's first trip to the beach, which was Grand Isle, I pointed out the sugar cane fields as we drove Hwy 90.  He was impressed that grass could grow so tall.  Taking a look at the fields from an elevated part of the highway, he said, "It looks like a giant's lawn!" And it kinda did!

My great-grandpa grew up in a sugar cane growing community.  He liked to tell me about how all the kids would follow the trucks carrying loads of sugar cane to the sugar mills.  Cane would spill from the trucks and the kids would gather it up, chewing on the cane to extract the sweet juices.

Cane juice can be cooked down to produce cane syrup, something that's done by Steen's in Abbeville, LA.  Steen's is known for their cane syrup...

from Cajungrocer.com

And their bright yellow label.

People pour cane syrup over pancakes, biscuits, pain perdu ("lost bread" or French toast), and coush coush (or cush cush)--cooked cornmeal that resembles crumbly cornbread.   I have to admit that I don't like these uses for it.  Cane syrup is dark and think, almost like molasses, but sweeter and with a slight caramel taste.  It's just too strong for me (I don't like pure maple syrup either).

But while I don't enjoy those traditional uses, I do like cane syrup in a traditional Cajun dessert: Gateau de Sirop (syrup cake).  Gateau de Sirop is a simple, dark cake flavored with cane syrup.  It's served as is or maybe with a plop of whipped cream or some extra cane syrup.  But never icing.  

The recipe I used from Nun Better: Tastes & Tales From Around a Cajun Table came out fluffy and airy.  Some syrup cakes are more dense and heavy.  This recipe used a mixture of baking soda and boiling water, which I've been told results in a light airy cake.  But I've also been told that using boiling water results in a moist cake.  All I know is that this cake was both!

You'll need:
Sugar, oil (or applesauce), eggs, cane syrup,

baking powder, flour, salt, cinnamon,
baking soda, & boiling water

Optional ingredients:
nuts and raisins

The dark liquid is the cane syrup.

Mix the eggs, oil (or applesauce), sugar, and syrup.
Then add the dry ingredients.

Not all syrup cakes call for cinnamon.  I thought it was a good addition.

Next, mix baking soda with boiling water and add to the batter.
If you want to use nuts and raisins, add them too.
The batter will be thin.  That's ok.  It should be.
Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.

Check out these air bubbles.

Printer Friendly recipe
Gâteau de Sirop

from Nun Better: Tastes & Tales From Around A Cajun Table

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup oil (or applesauce)
2 eggs
1 cup cane syrup
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp baking soda
nuts and raisins (optional)

Combine sugar, oil, egg, and syrup and beat. Add baking powder, flour, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate container, add baking soda to boiling water. Pour water/soda mixture into batter. Nuts and raisins may be added at this time. Pour into a prepared 13 x 9 pan. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.

Linked to:

Around My Family Table

Recipes Of A Cheapskate


  1. Syrup cake is what we make at Christmas, so I think of sugar cane for Christmas, too!

  2. What great memories - I love that it "smells like Christmas!". I have never cooked with sugar cane, but I would love to make this cake! Thanks for sharing this with us at the Hearth and Soul Hop!

  3. I loved this post about the sugar cane fields. Funny how you and your husband have different feelings about the fields burning. I've heard of Steen's syrup before, but I've never seen it around here. The cake sounds wonderful. I'd love to try it!

    P.S. I wanted to tell you that I found Nutella at Walgreen's of all places. It was $3.50 each or 2 for $7, an awesome deal compared to most places. I don't know if you have Walgreen's down there, but I remember that you liked Nutella and thought I would let you know.

  4. What a yummy sounding cake and a great post. Your posts are always so interesting. I've never seen, never mind smelled, a stink bug. I'm going to have to google that. I assume it.....stinks? LOL! I'm sure I've never seen sugar cane fields either. Louisiana is one of the very few states I haven't visited. Yet!

  5. Hmmmm...suddenly I'm in the mood for syrup cake.

  6. Thanks for linking up to Tip Day Thursday! I can't wait to give this a try!

    Around My Family Table


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