In Youngsville, Louisiana, just outside of Lafayette, Charles Poirier makes cane syrup the old-fashioned way—by hand and very, very slowly.
First, he grows an acre-and-a-half of sugar cane on his property—seven varieties, including five nearly lost and forgotten heirlooms. Then, between late-September and early-December, when the cane is ready for harvesting, he cuts it down with a cane knife and strips the leaves until only the stalks remain. Those he runs through a 109-year-old mill, which is powered by an 84-year-old engine, both of which Poirier personally restored. He boils the cane into syrup in his sugarhouse, a 384-square-foot structure located in his backyard. Of course, he built the sugarhouse, as well as the new bottling and storage space he added this year to increase output—there’s no part of this process he does not personally oversee.
“My great-great-grandfather used to make cane syrup, so I figured making my own would be a nice tribute to my family. Plus, I love old machinery,” says Poirier, who began selling his syrup commercially three years ago. “In this business, you’re pretty much on your own, though. It’s not like you can go to school for it.”
It’s hard work to be sure, but Poirier’s loyal and growing following—chefs, food bloggers, and people lucky enough to have had a taste—swear by the amber-colored syrup’s earthy, caramel-like sweetness. Supplies are limited—Poirier expects to bottle 11 or 12 batches, or about 250 gallons, of syrup this season—so order a bottle while you can. Then, drizzle the syrup on everything from cornbread and pancakes to roast duck and aged cheese.
Or, take it like Poirier does, with a shot of whiskey. “A friend of mine sent me a text that a group of chefs were gathered in New Orleans and they were passing around a bottle of Jameson and a bottle of my syrup, chasing one with the other,” Poirier says. “That’s how I found out about it. And I have to say, they’re pretty good together.”
For more info, go to facebook.com/PoiriersCaneSyrup. Call 337-254-8758 for orders and inquiries.