History of Steen’s Syrup

1stmill_sketchHistory: This typical setting of a small syrup mill is much like the one C. S. Steen started with in 1910. In the early 1900’s many mills such as this type dotted Southern Louisiana landscapes. This mule drawn mill could produce a couple barrels of syrup a day.

In the beginning Mr. C. S. Steen worked with his wife and children expanding and building each year. At the time of his death (1936) the mill was processing about 10,000 tons of cane into syrup annually. Surviving children at this time were Daisy S. Morgan, C. S. Steen, Jr., Myrtle Steen and J. Wesley Steen. Together with their mother they continued to make syrup. After the death of Mrs. Steen in 1938 a partnership was formed by her four children. They worked together, building and growing, until the death of C. S. Steen, Jr. in 1946. By this time the production of the mill had doubled since the time when the partnership started. Because of the size of the business it became necessary to form a corporation. As years passed stock shifts took place and ownership was transferred to J. Wesley Steen, Lilian B. Steen and her son, Albert C. (wife and son of C. S. Steen, Jr.). This new team continued working together, building and expanding, until 1974 when Wesley retired. Presently, the mill is under the guidance of the children of Albert C. Steen, Sr.

Cannin’ Syrup: Grandma always said when you have a good thing going – then don’t change it. Grandma Lillian lived by these words. After marrying Charley Steen Jr. in the early nineteen hundreds, she and her mother-in-law worked side by side canning syrup. “In those days one of us would fill the can with freshly cooked syrup and the other of us would snap on a lid. A man would take it from us, place it on a platform and roll it under a large fan to cool it off (which stopped the can of syrup from further cooking.) After the cans could be handled, it was time to label them. We would make a homemade paste, brush it on the identifying tag and place the tin cans in cases. I remember it was really hard work; we truly put our hearts and souls into what we were doing. You know I have seen the Mill run by four generations of Steen’s. We’ve been through a lot together – the times have sure changed in all these years. I tell you one thing – it’s a lot easier on those canning lines they have now than the way we had to do it then.” – Lillian B. Steen

truckload_sketchHistory: The picture above is of the setting 60 years ago. You can see the cane trucks, derrick, smokestacks and the steam rising in the air from the syrup being cooked.

Hearing the Whistle and Smelling the Syrup: After a long hot southern summer, few things could be as welcomed as the cool autumn air complimented by the tantalizing aroma of syrup cooking at Steen’s Syrup Mill. Mr. C. S. Steen, Sr. began this tradition in 1910 in an effort to save his frozen crop of sugar cane. Today, five generations later, the Steen’s still uses the original recipe and continues to make pure cane syrup the ol’ fashion way. The traditional kick off of syrup making season was the sounding of the steam whistle. Locals knew that when they heard this, it signaled yet another year of history being made and soon the rich aroma of syrup would fill the air.

plant_sketchHistory: First of its kind any where in the world, this cane cleaning plant took sugar cane and removed the leaves and dirt, which was burned to ash. The Ash was returned to the fields and the sugar cane would go to the mill to become 100% Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup.

Magical Memories: “I can remember going to the Mill at night and hanging out until we just HAD to go home”, said Carole Steen. You see it was Grinding Season and with Mother Nature at the heels of the farmer to get their cane crops in, the Mill would stay open twenty-four hours a day. “We went there to see Daddy, because, for the most part, it was see him there or not see much of him. We would make our way up all the floors and stages of the Mill visiting everyone. One of my fondest memories was of an elderly employee Mr. Sabre Duhon calling us over and bringing us to the lab. This place was so awesome and intimidating to me as a child. All the testing equipment and machines just seemed so important. Sabre would lead us over to this toaster oven where he parched peanuts and gave them to us. As a child, I found this so magical. It’s a memory I still hold close to my heart.”

cs_sketchHistory: In the plantation days, when the variety of candies we have today didn’t exist, “la cuite” (pronounced “la-kweet”) was a very popular confection. Children would wrap it on a stick, dip it into chopped pecans or walnuts and eat it very much like an all-day sucker. It was cooked in an open stainless steel kettle.

Too Small to Help: From the time a Steen is born, he or she is exposed to this adventure of syrup making. Bert Steen can recall one of his first occasions of actually getting to work at the Mill at an early age of four years. Wanting to help, Bert stacked two wooden coke cases next to one of the large rectangular pans. These specially made containers boil only on one end forcing all impurities to flow toward the cooler side where the clarification process can take place. There were a couple special workers always willing to allow the youngsters to help and make his day by paying him in candy for his work. They helped Bert to climb up on his homemade stool and began the clarification process hand in hand, helping to create Steen’s 100% Pure Cane Syrup and vivid memories.

planting_sketchHistory: After all these years farmers still plant sugar cane the same old way. Hand layed into the soil, the seed cane is covered and allowed to grow. Fifteen months later the crop will be harvested and cooked to the right clarity and consistency to be called Steen’s 100% Pure Cane Syrup.

Chewin’ Cane: Children and adults in south Louisiana realized years ago that sugar cane is a natural sweet treat. They peel the sides of the cane and chew on the juicy pulp found inside. Today, mechanized equipment cut sugar cane, strip it of its leaves and load it on to hydraulic dump carts which tractors or trucks tow to the Mill. The Mill extracts these same sweet juices which are cooked into Steen’s 100% Pure Cane Syrup. Being a lot closer than the cane fields in most cases, The Mill did offer easy access to find pieces of cane to chew on. Children and adults alike often stopped by the Mill to partake in this age old tradition. Knowing how enticing this sweet treat is, the farmers of the past as well as Mill employees have often selected choice pieces of cane in anticipation of the smiles they will receive when they hand out nature’s candy.

cutting_sketchHistory: Prior to mechanical cutters farmers scouted the countryside for labor to hand cut and strip the sugar cane for delivery to the C. S. Steen Syrup Mill.

Home Away From Home: In the hustle and bustle of today’s fast paced society, one can truly count on friendship as a treasure. If one is lucky enough to have friendship that lasts generation after generation, that’s when WE call it FAMILY. Here at Steen Syrup Mill, we have been blessed with the good fortune of calling so many of the employees family. Like in any group, certain names spark special memories. When we say Kye we think of dedication, loyalty, laughter and forty-six years of service. Pierre brings to mind devotion, after all, he was there for sixty years and has seen three generations of syrup makers grow and prosper. 0l’ Smiley was sure to bring a smile to our faces with his drawings of steam engines and tractors, showing the era in which he grew up in. There’s Sabre, Narris and Johnnie, three generations of Duhon’s that have worked with us. Frank the bookkeeper, Toothpick the truck driver and the list could go on and on. Steen Syrup Mill has and still is blessed with a unique working environment as well as wonderful co-workers who create an extended family at the Mill that we will always treasure.

trucks_waiting_sketchHistory: Farmers would line the streets for blocks as the sketch and the photograph from the 1960’s depicts. The cane trucks and their drivers would await their turn at the syrup mill to be unloaded. Afterwards, they return to the fields for yet another load of sugar cane.

After Hours: Friday and Saturday nights were always a special time for the Steen children. It was a time they could go to the Mill to visit their Dad and stay there very late with him while he worked the long hours demanded of him by Grinding Season. Charley Steen III, remembers once there, weekend or weekday, the fun they had when they would get to do special projects with their father. A special treat would come hours after they had returned home. Albert Steen would come home in the wee hours of the morning, every morning, and count heads (because there were always friends over in the Steen’s household.) He headed out once again to Harry Bohrer’s Restaurant in Abbeville to pick up hamburgers or combination sandwiches. Once home, he would wake all the children up and they would run and climb into their parents bed where they all had sandwiches together and quality time.

openkettle_sketchHistory: Kettles of pure sugar cane juice are evaporated into cane syrup at the C. S. Steen Syrup Mill. The escaping steam will fill the air over the city of Abbeville with the delicious aroma of cooking syrup, a signal to all the residents that Autumn has arrived and the sugar cane harvest is in full swing.

Hot Bread and Cane Syrup: On cold frosty mornings, many employees would go to an old bakery in town and pick up french bread or biscuits and come to work. Of course, the other half of the meal, hot syrup, would be awaiting them upon their arrival to work. This is just one sweet memory of eating breakfast the old fashioned way. Betty Steen remembers many mornings that breakfast would be eaten at work. There was one special treat in the ol’ days, she remembered vividly. The men would bring a loaf of french bread to the mill and get a piece of cheesecloth (which in those days was used to strain the syrup). Around the bread they would put pecans, cover it in syrup and wrap it in the cheesecloth. Then, they would allow it to cook from the fires of the boilers, pull it out, and throw it on the frosty tin roof and let it crispen. The bread would caramelize and break off just like peanut brittle.

newmill_sketchHistory: The Average “Syrup Makin’ Season” extends from mid-October through Christmas. The ensuing years may have brought their share of freezes and droughts, but the public demand for good cane syrup has never diminished. This is the present location of the C. S. Steen Syrup Mill.

Packing up Prize Possessions: For many of us, the best things in life are always remembered by the memories they bring to mind. Steen’s Syrup Mill produces much more than syrup. Jimmie Steen describes one such fond memory. He recounts a time when an alternative use for the roller conveyor slide was made up. Often when the Steen children would visit their dad at the mill, the ever-creative Albert Steen would make the most of their visits by creating amusements out of simple mill equipment. Albert would packup his most prized possessions, his children, in open packing boxes. He would slide them down the roller conveyor slide, creating wonderful memories and a lot of fun for his small children.

truck_sketchHistory: In 1910, Grandpa Steen’s dream was to make pure cane syrup and at that time he didn’t have any reason to add anything to his syrup. The Steen Family still feels the same way today by keeping Steen’s a pure product.

Sweet Mist: What Child doesn’t have pleasant memories of playing in the rain on a hot summer day? Debbie Steen has just such memories with a different twist. With Grinding Season in progress, Debbie found herself once again seeking out a perfect piece of cane to chew on. Knowing there would be only one place on the mill yard that she could find that piece of cane and get misted with water at the same time, she would take a designated path under the conveyors that carried the cut pieces of sugar cane into the mill. Here, as the first washing occurs, water is sprayed over the billets of cane and a mist was emitted providing cool comfort to Debbie as she stood underneath the conveyor. This ritual became so much fun that even as the weather turned cooler and the mist turned icy, the lure of a sweet piece of cane and the refreshing mist, still attracted her – creating memories of grinding season in Cajun country that will last a lifetime.

steens_sketchPeople: This is a list of just a few of our friends and family – the people that helped raise us as well as helping Steen’s Syrup Mill grow through the years. Since there is no way that we can list everyone – these are a few special people that have been with us the longest. A special thanks for sharing your lives with us. View List

Dedication: Charley Sidney Steen, Sr. and Elizabeth Bernard Steen founded the C. S. Steen Syrup Mill in 1910 with the purchase of a small mill from a local hardware store. In desperation that year, the Steens tried to save what they could of their sugar cane crop which stood frozen in the fields hit by an early freeze. Their example of ingenuity, perseverence and hard work lives on today in the lives of the present family and friends at the mill. Today, we present the history of the C. S. Steen Syrup Mill combining the wisdom of earlier eras and incorporating advanced technologies of today. Bringing the old to the new, their descendants dedicate this respectfully.