Friday, October 26, 2007

The Friday Fact

Gimme Some Sugah!!!

I'm making chocolate chip cookies at the moment, and so my thoughts naturally turned towards sugar. Sugar is the #1 cash crop in Louisiana, followed by cotton, soy beans, rice, feed corn and crawfish.

Sugar-making itself has a fascinating history, but that's not what I'm going to go into today. I'm focusing on the wonderful product called brown sugar. Having worked at a plantation in Louisiana, I learned more about antebellum sugar-making practices than any person should ever have a right to know. Including some very interesting things about brown sugar.

You would be amazed how many think white sugar comes first, and then brown sugar. That is not the case. There are 4 grades of sugar. Raw, dark brown, light brown and refined white sugar. Everyone is familiar with light brown and white, but not so many are familiar with dark brown or raw. Raw is starting to pop up in places outside of Louisiana as the demand for organic foods continues to climb. Dark brown is still not easily found outside of sugar-producing states. Many people think it's too strong.

Back in the olden days, making sugar was a very time consuming process. It starts with the juice. Cane juice looks, feels and smells like slimy water that's been sitting in a bucket for days and days. This juice is turned into sugar, molasses, cane syrup and rum. The main purpose of sugar cane, prior to the late 1700's, was to make rum. Sugar was merely a by-product, and that's why it cost so much and was often called White Gold. 1 ton of sugar cane produces only about 100 pounds of sugar. That same ton produces several hundred gallons of molasses- the main ingredient in good rum.

You cook the juice down over a VERY hot fire. And I do mean VERY hot, fueled with hard woods. It's so hot it can roast a hot dog in about 30 seconds. Which is good, because that's about how long you can stand next to it. And yes, I know that through personal experience, lol. The juice goes through 4 stages of purification and boiling off the excess water before it's ready to be seeded. The kettle had to be seeded with sugar from the previous year's batch. Making sugar was an artform and was not an easy task. Kent House has made sugar 13 years in a row. Sugar was actually produced only 5 times.

The juice had to be heated up to 225 degrees, and then it would begin to crystallize. The juice was removed from the heat, and prior to 1850, poured into wooden troughs. Once in there it was stirred to help it begin to cool off. As it cooled, the sugar granules would form a crust along the top and sides.

The sugar is VERY dark brown. Darker than dark brown sugar, and the granules resemble rock candy in size. This is sugar in its purest form and it's like eating molasses flavored rock candy. But you couldn't sell it that way outside of Louisiana. So it had to be refined. The crystals were removed, and melted again. Then poured into a trough again. The crystals shrank, and there you had dark brown sugar.

To get light brown, you repeat the process. To get white, you melt them one more time, then let the granules get almost cool. Now comes the slightly weird part. The granules were poured into a big metal drum and then spun around. This process would extract the last drops of molasses from the crystals, thereby turning the sugar white.

A lot of people would be shocked when I told them this on a tour. They assumed that white sugar came first and brown sugar was made by adding molasses to the white. The reverse is true.

And there you have it. How to make all 4 grades of sugar! If you ever find yourself with 3-4 weeks and nothing to do during those weeks, make some sugar! And next time you have a bowl of oatmeal, try it with some brown sugar on top. Delicious!

1 comment :

  1. Who knew? Around here it's Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar. And in Kansas it was sorghum. :)