Inmates at Angola make syrup the old-fashioned way

Inmates at Angola make syrup the old-fashioned way

ANGOLA, LA (WAFB) - A sign of the season in south Louisiana is the sugar cane harvest.

Angola Prison has harvested cane and is making syrup from two popular south Louisiana strains. Warden Burl Cain said the prison planted LSU-developed "Plaquemine Cain," which produces more sugar than most and the traditional Blue Ribbon Cane. They mix the two to make their special inmate syrup.

The inmate sugar mills are both antiquated. One is mule-drawn, which Warden Cain purchased from a central Mississippi farmer. The other is the prison's old sugar mill. It was used in the sugar refinery that was on-site up until it was sold and moved off-site in the 1970s. Cain sees the venture as a living history exhibit. He shows school children the old fashioned farming ways when they visit the prison.

Cain said he can even show visitors an original copper pot they use that was part of the old prison refinery back in the early 1900s. The copper, by modern standards, is probably worth thousands of dollars (speculated).

Inmate Pete Clement grew up on a farm that prepared syrup every year. He has been chosen to train the other inmates on the process. They planted the first year and this is the third year, but only their second making the syrup. Clement said this year, it is easier.

"We've had a real good year with it this year," Clement said. "We've had the weather and everybody knew what to do this year. It's going really well."

Once the syrup is squeezed from the mill, it is transported as a liquid to large stainless steel trays over an intense wood fire. They are refined on high heat while inmates with ladles skim the impurities off the surface of the syrup. One inmate steadily feeds the fire with wood.

The rendered syrup is then poured through a silk filter to remove even more debris from it and the whole batch is allowed to cool.

On this work day, inmates would get biscuits and syrup, still warm off the production line. They worked later into the day and had syrup on their lunches, too. Fruits of the labor, one inmate said okra and syrup tastes pretty good.

You can buy the syrup in the Angola Prison Museum shop. It'll be in small jars, right alongside the jellies, jams and prison hot sauce.

Copyright 2014 WAFB. All rights reserved.