Friday, March 7, 2008

Raw Sugar Making

I have a history with sugar. Most days I love it, but it never seems to really love me back. Or maybe that it loves me tooooo much! It never wants to leave! But how do you really understand your love, until you know their history? A history that started before you ever came along.

Sugar, the molecule, has a long history with the world, but this batch of sugar here has a story much simpler.

Sugarcane grew in a field in the Nicaraguan sun. At the beginning it was a short green sprout, it simply looked grassy in the field that had only days before been smoking with fire to clear the remnants of the previous harvest.

In only six short months, the cane grew taller than a man (although Nicaraguan men tend to be short, still it was pretty tall) and extended a feathery flower to the sky. When the time was right, it was cut, bundled together with its neighbors and loaded onto an ox cart.

From the field it was carried to a nearby shelter. Some canes are taken to large processing plants to become white sugar, this cane stayed closer to home, which means less processing.

The cane was fed through a large pressing machine moved by large belts in turn powered by a loud diesel motor cooled by large barrels of water.

From the pressing machine ran the juice, out of the cane and into the tank. There the juice (which also can be drank at this point tasting kind of like sugary iced tea when fixed with lime juice and ice) was transferred by hose into a metal vat with a fire boiling the juice from underneath.

The fire is fed by the remains of crushed cane, tended by a man who has not bathed (Nicaraguans have a fixation on body temperature, it’s considered damaging to be in a room with air conditioning if you have a fever, by the same token, if you’ve cooled your body by bathing, it’s considered dangerous to tend the fire in such a hot location).

As the water boils off, the juice is transferred from one vat to another. Some of it is skimmed off and used as animal feed. In Spanish the word for this part is molasses (I never really liked molasses that much to begin with).

The boiling continues until the sugar is ladled into molds and left to cool into a crumbly brick.

The bricks are bundled into bags where I bought my five pounds of sugar bricks for about seventy five cents.

It is really raw sugar with a distinct and strong molasses flavor remaining, but it is at the heart of the Nicaraguan economy and Nicaraguan celebrations. And I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten enough, it’s part of my heart too.


Alana said...

Where I come from in Brazil, this is a staple everyday snack. We call it rapadura there. Delicious stuff and I have some lying around at home.

Nanay ! said...

I live in venezuela, and we call it Papelon,and is refreshing making a limonade sweetened with it melted.Tipical beverage we call "papelon con limon".

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Elizabeth said...

How does it compare to maple syrup candy? I always get the little sugar maple leafs when I pass through Canada. Mmmmmm.