Photo by Regina Charboneau
To try pork roast with turnips in cane gravy, click here for the recipe.
There are few places I go where I do not feel compelled to cook for my friends, Paris included. Many people ask why I do this, but it's simple--I love my friends. So, when I was in Paris over the summer I wanted to prepare a dinner for my friends with a true taste of the South. I picked up a jar of cane syrup at the more than fabulous food hall at Bon Marche department store.
With that one ingredient I knew I could create something foreign to them and very familiar to me. Mireille Romand (owner of Galerie Documents in Paris) took me to her favorite butcher shop and found a beautiful pork butt roast that was boned and tied to perfection. For the finale of our Paris grocery shopping we went to her local farmer's market. I was able to find my father's favorite accompaniment to pork--turnips--and an array of other vegetables.
I roasted the pork roast with garlic, sea salt, cracked pepper, and rosemary. I rolled the roast in cane syrup then roasted the vegetables in the pork drippings to make cane syrup gravy. To me the key to good meat is the way you roast it or braise it. It all goes back to the fact that caramelization gives a natural richness. The cane syrup enhances that process tenfold. I have a new-found love of cane syrup.
In syrup-making you can take thermometers, hydrometers, motors, or mules, but Judge Bramlette said a good syrup-maker just knows.
There are more than food questions I wish I had asked my father while I still had him. I wish he were here to tell me stories about the cane fields of Louisiana, and I have no doubt he would have much to say on the subject. But since he's not here, when I decided to share my recipe for pork and turnips in cane gravy and write about cane syrup, one person came right to mind: a friend of my family, Federal Judge David Bramlette.
When I moved back to Natchez he had invited me several years in a row to an annual event in his hometown of Woodville, Mississippi--a full day of making cane syrup from the "press" to the "strike" and the roasting of wild Russian Hogs. I missed every year and have regretted it each year so I made sure to have it on my calendar for this November. Yesterday, I sat down with Judge Bramlette and was able to hear firsthand how he started this tradition 25 years ago, and I have a feeling I will not miss this event as long as I have an invitation. He is the epitome of a Southern gentleman, and within a short time you cannot help but be enthralled.
It began with a fall hunt 26 years ago when Judge Bramlette stumbled upon an abandoned Chattanooga syrup mill. I think the mill found him. He was a natural to take this project on. His father ran several sugar cane plantations. There also was the Stuart side of his family, owning one of the 11 existing sugar mills in Louisiana since 1859, Alma Plantation, now producing raw sugar. This project quickly turned into a passion.
Photo by Zeetz Jones/Flickr CC
The science of making syrup is not all that simple. I think his Princeton education probably helped. He laughed when he shared his first attempt at making syrup. It was an ambitious one. He drove up with a pickup truck loaded down with just cut sugar cane, thinking he would be making about 100 gallons of syrup. He quickly discovered a lot about sugar cane. The pressing of the cane is a process in itself, with the speed of a mule, and if the rains had cooperated to produce adequate liquid and the gods had cooperated enough to produce the proper sucrose levels you might be lucky to get one gallon of syrup from 8 to 10 gallons of sugar cane juice.