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Morningside Nature Center’s Annual Cane Boil & FiddleFest Is A Step into the Past

Six-year-old Henry Audette ran out of his cane syrup last summer; he knew he’d have to get more.

Audette had to wait until Nov. 30 before he could get his hands on the thick, sugary substance again. Every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department and the Friends of Nature Parks present the Cane Boil & FiddleFest at Morningside Nature Center.

Henry, and his father, Matthew Audette, attended the event last year, where the six-year-old first tried the cane syrup.

It’s like eating straight molasses, Matthew Audette said.

The two attended after Matthew Audette had learned about it while on Gainesville’s Nature Centers Commission.

“It’s a very short season, apparently,” Matthew Audette said. “So when we saw this was happening again (the fest), I said now’s our chance buddy.”

The event began as a part of the nature center’s Living History Saturdays. On those Saturdays, staff would showcase how people harvested and used sugar cane in the 1800s. Now, it has become an annual event for families to get a sneak-peak into what life would have been like in 19th century Gainesville, especially if they’d had a sweet tooth.

Volunteers and employees alike dressed in period clothing and demonstrated everyday tasks of a 19th-century sugar cane farmer. The Morningside Nature Center’s farm is a period-accurate recreation, with sugar cane growing in the fields, a rehabilitated cabin from the 1840s sitting on the grounds and a barn comprising of both old and new materials tucked in the corner. Demonstrations during the fest included sugar cane shucking, carving and ultimately boiling.

“It’s really very educational,” Linda Demetropoulos, the city’s nature operations manager, said. “It takes people back to a time, a much simpler time, the 1870s.”

Demetropoulos explained that the sugar cane crop was often a part of people’s farms in Gainesville. Often around November of each year, people would harvest their sugar cane. They would use the sugar cane as a sweetener for their foods for the entire year.

All the cane syrup sold at the fest derives from the recreated farm, aside from some donations from other sugar cane growers in the area.

“We are very fortunate, and it always works out this way,” said Demetropoulos, “Where people will call us up and they say, we’ve got a bumper crop of sugarcane, ... Can you guys use it?”

The answer is always yes, Demetropoulos said.

Besides the volunteers and workers set up around the farm, folk musicians were also a part of the fest. People attending the event could hear the traditional sounds of bluegrass throughout the festival, serving as a backdrop at times, and at other times, as the main event.

The Cane Boil & FiddleFest held a youth fiddle contest in the morning and for the rest of the day after, different musical groups would take the stage to perform.

Each year, the free event welcomes around 1,000 people from all over Alachua County. The event organizers used to charge admission, but now they only take donations. Demetropoulos said the Friends of Nature Parks were a big help in putting on the event.

“They get all the musicians and they do other good things for our nature parks all year,” she said. “So, these donations that are accepted today will go directly back into this event to fund it in the future.”

Michaela is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.