Sugar cane squeeze to be sweet, family friendly fun

Published on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 18:39 - Written by BETTY WATERS blw@tylerpaper.com

NECHES – The fourth annual sugar cane squeeze on Saturday at Diamond B Ranch will carry festival-goers back in time to the days when sugar cane syrup was widely made on East Texas farms.

“We’re trying to promote old fashion culture and western culture. People used to make syrup long years ago throughout this area and grew sugar cane all over East Texas,” M. Martin Swanson of Diamond B Ranch said.

The ranch has a restored cane mill, which is about 100 years old, and will be put in operation for the sugar cane squeeze festival.

“We hook a mule on it that walks in circles (to turn gears of the mill), and we run it. We put the cane in there, and it squeezes the cane and the juice flows out. We collect it and boil it in a big copper kettle and make syrup,” Swanson said. “It’s to promote the old lifestyle.”

There will be many other activities too, including food vendors, a blacksmith, wagon rides, a corn mill, music, arts and crafts, a garden tour and cowboy mounted shooting.

The ranch, located 2.2 miles from the Neches Post Office on Farm-to-Market Road 321, will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, but children 12 and under are free.

“It’s a great family event,” Swanson said. “Come and enjoy a neat part of history.”

Sugar cane used in the syrup-making demonstration is grown on the ranch in about 40 to 50 rows. It is a about 10 feet tall now. The variety of sugar cane grown is blue ribbon cane, which is “real sweet and it makes good syrup,” Swanson said.

“People get to see the process of how we squeeze the juice (out of the sugar cane stalks), and they can actually see it being boiled and made into syrup,” Swanson said.

Also, people will get to see a corn mill grinding white corn, with the corn meal put in a bag. The grist mill is about 80 years old and operated by a recently restored engine.

Attractions added to the festival this year include a cowboy-mounted shooting competition, an equestrian event starting at 10 a.m. Cowboys on horses will ride in a pattern and shoot blanks at balloons on poles.

At least 30 riders are entered in the shooting event. “It’s fun for people to watch,” Swanson said, advising people to bring folding chairs.

There will be wagons for a wagon race.

A concert from noon to 4 p.m. will feature Country 911, a country western swing band consisting of retired law enforcement officers.

A blacksmith will hand forge art pieces while another artisan will make art out of horseshoes. A vendor will sell handmade walking canes.

Also, tours will be conducted of a garden with raised beds of vegetables, peaches, plums, grapes and tomatoes.

“We explain how we farm the old ancient way of agriculture that we’ve adapted and have been practicing for a long time,” Swanson said.