Sunday, 15 February 2009

Peeking At Pika: Canne

C is for Canne à sucre Kann Sugar Cane

Originally Pika was, like much of Guadeloupe, just a big sugar cane field, but when Papy bought it in 1959 he started planting different things. He kept a lot of the cane and this as well as the cane on his land in Le Moule was taken by the family to the factories of Grosse Montagne and Le Moule to make sugar. The entire family was involved in this work and Bertie has recounted to me how his mum was tending the cane when she went into labour with him!

Now however there is just a small patch of cane left, purely for family consumption. And even that is thin on the ground right now as the new cane grows.

I wrote a bit about sugar cane in this post but just to remind you, it is from the grass family and is planted from an existing cane; a tige (stalk) is made up of lots of noeuds (sections of the cane) and three of these are planted horizontally in the ground. The new cane takes a minimum of 5 or 6 months to grow and when mature the stalk is chopped down leaving the root to produce a new cane. This cycle carries on harvest after harvest but as the amount of cane produced diminishes, at some point a new cane will be planted.

The harvest season here is February to June (dry season) and the cane is either chopped and tied into bundles using the wispy leaves at the top, or the field is burnt, which amazingly doesn't affect the roots or stalk. Once it is harvested it is taken to the factory to be processed into sugar or rum. According to Bertie, outside of this season any sugar cane is taken to the distillery instead.

After this, there is a helpful description of the sugar making process here. Basically the juice is extracted, cleaned with slaked lime, evaporated into a syrup, boiled to form sugar crystals and passed through a centrifuge to separate the crystals and remaining liquid. Raw sugar is a brown sticky substance which is then refined to make white sugar as we know it.There are two side-products: molasses is the remaining syrup and can be sent to the distillery to make alcohol. After the cane is crushed and the juice removed, the remaining fibre is known as bagasse. On burning this, sufficient heat is produced to boil water and create high-pressure steam, which in turn drives a turbine to produce electricity for the factory as well as create additional steam needed for the process. I was interested to note that this is a very environmentally-friendly way of creating electricity.

But back to our cane in Pika where the process is a lot simpler! The cane is chopped, the ends and the exterior are chopped off (by someone with a sharp knife and a very steady hand - not me!) then handed out for our enjoyment. Chew it, suck it, then spit it out, and enjoy all that lovely cane juice! It won't last very long so make the most of it whilst it is there!
Here is CassCass enjoying a piece cut by Papy above (see all those stains down her t-shirt - that was not her first!)
Good for you...

Yes and no is the quick answer to this question! Sugar in its refined form is BAD BAD BAD! Did you catch that everyone...! Even in moderation! I could go into length about this but I shall keep my post short(er) and just give you some places to check this out further if you are interested:

*Organic Nutrition gives a very thorough list of the problems with sugar, not least its addictiveness
*Passionate Homemaker not only explains why we should avoid sugar but also what we could replace it with
*If even a few of these risks are the case, sugar should definitely be off our shopping list!

On the other hand, sugar cane (pre-refined) is fine (in moderation of course), even including the nutritional benefit of being high in riboflavin. This site claims many more benefits but I haven't researched them all!
As for me, I shall continue to enjoy fresh sugar cane when it is available, try and keep low the amount of sugar we take in (to the astonishment of most people I know here, Baby JoJo is still sugar-free!), though on this sugar producing island this is hard work and of course not helping the local economy. I would like to do away with sugar entirely when we return home and replace it with healthier (always in moderation!) alternatives, but we shall see...

Sources: wikipedia Bertie All other sources cited
Photos: Pika

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