Fresh Sugar Cane Juice: Antique Mill

Fresh sugar cane juice using an antique mill may sound strange to many people. Not everyone is familiar with the process of making sugar.

We pick up processed sugar in the stores without giving it a second thought. How did this refinement take place? Modern technology has made it easier than it was in former years.

Once upon a time things were done differently. Farmers’ equipment were less sophisticated and manual labor was the norm.

Sugar was the prime export commodity from the West Indies to Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. The juice had to be extracted to produce molasses and sugar crystals.

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Bundles of Sugar Cane

Brief History of Sugar Cane: The West Indies Story.

Sugar cane is a member of the grass family grown in warm tropical climates. This fibrous stalk is jointed similar to the bamboo but denser on the inside.

In the 17th century under British control, sugar cane was introduced to the West Indies from Brazil. Massive forced laborers captured and sold from Africa were used to fortify the plantation owners.

Sugar was a luxury item until its increased production in the New World saturated Europe. This contributed to the gradual affluence of the populace who could now afford it.

Growing sugar cane was very strenuous work done only by enslaved laborers at first and considered undignified by the middle and upper class population.

Many workers including men, women, and children died due to the hard work and harsh conditions. That was not a problem, however, as they were easily replaced by more captives as stock.

The West Indies is known for its intense hot weather all year long. High production resulting in wealthy plantation owners was top priority, and the free labor made this happen.

The days were long, arduous with frequent whip lashings, and usually unbearable. There were many steps involved from preparing the land to obtaining the various byproducts.

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Field of Sugar Cane

Antique Methods … Pre-technology.

Land had to be cleared and hoed before planting and fertilizing took place. The work was not only backbreaking but also done manually.

Harvesting was done using machetes otherwise called cutlasses. The stalks were taken to the mill buildings where they were crushed and the juice boiled producing a rich brown sticky substance.

Crushing was done by feeding the cane through a mill between heavy extractors expelling the juice. This was sometimes a dangerous procedure often injuring the workers.

The juice was stored in barrels until it went through a separation process. The top portion, a very dark, thick substance called molasses was poured off. Rum is a byproduct of molasses.

The lower portion which is the sugar was shipped to Europe in barrels.

Further refinement was later done to get the different grades and shades of sugar … dark, medium, light brown, and white or granulated.

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Sugar

Fresh Sugar Cane Juice: The Mill

Fresh sugar cane juice using a manual mill usually operated by two persons is still in use on a very small scale. There are individuals who love this business and find it convenient.

The mill is made of metal and mounted on a metal or wooden base with the cane being fed between two pieces of the metal.

The operators at either end of a long horizontal pole pushed going around in circles as the juice is caught into containers. Operators can be relieved by others to make it less strenuous.

Particles from the cane will also get into the liquid so it is strained with a very fine strainer or clean cloth prior to storing.

This fresh juice has a 24-hour shelf life and must be refrigerated or freezed to prolong its freshness. In order to keep the liquid evenly distributed, the juice should be thawed and stirred before serving.

Sugar cane juice is refreshing alone but is usually enjoyed with the addition of lemon or lime juice.

Despite its pleasing taste of both sugar cane juice and sugar, it is a product that should be used in moderation or avoided by person suffering from diabetes and obesity due to the high carbohydrate content.

In addition to the abundance of sucrose (sugar), it has small amounts of nutritional elements such as iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, sodium, chloride, potassium, among others.

The tradition of cultivating and/or juicing cane has remained in families and sometimes passed on to the next generation.

The Entrepreneur: His Story

Hector Campbell, a man who is passionate about farming, operated his own cane juice business for many years using his manual cane mill. Members of the family participated in this chore.

This old-fashioned piece of equipment has produced hundreds of gallons of juice served to family members, friends from all over the world, and sold to local shops, restaurants, and hotels.

Friends of his from the USA visited his home and made a video showcasing the operation of his mill.

People mistakenly thought that water was added to the juice to “stretch” it. It was customary to keep it frozen in the plastic gallon or half gallon containers they were sold in.

A few buyers ignored the instruction to thaw it thoroughly and proceeded with false accusations requesting their money back. Others quickly understood and followed the proper procedure.

Sugar Cane Juice: Refreshing to the Last Drop

Sugar cane cultivation and processing may have broken the backs of those who were captured illegally and inhumanely transported to the West Indies …

… however, many of their descendants became proud and beloved farmers providing for their families and making a life for themselves.

The manual sugar cane mill has outlasted what was the number one trade between the British West Indian colonies and Europe. Though not widely used, a few are still in operation or kept as antiques.

Sugar cane juice is sweet, refreshing, and can be enjoyed to the very last drop.

Remember to thaw thoroughly if frozen to avoid having a separation of the liquid. The first part will be very sweet while the balance watered down.

Despite the title of this article, “Fresh Sugar Cane Juice: Antique Mill” cane is more popular than cane juice and is sold in food markets, on the side of the road, and at various events.

I hope you found this article beneficial. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. I will be more than happy to address them.

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Courtesy of Errol Corbett, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Christmas Jamaican Traditions: Sorrel

Why are traditions important to people all over the world? During the Christmas Holidays, there are several Jamaican traditions which have been passed on throughout generations.

One such tradition is drinking sorrel. It’s as important as eating the rich Christmas cake made with dried fruits soaked in rum and/or brandy for several months.

Sorrel, as a part of Christmas tradition, is popular among Jamaicans wherever they are in the world. They find a way to source it directly from Jamaica or other areas, anywhere it can be found.

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Sorrel Drink Manufactured by Errol Corbett of Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Christmas in Jamaica: How Traditions are Born.

Christmas Jamaican traditions have been handed down in families from generation to generation. Some have perfected the art of each and are looked upon to provide treats and dishes on special occasions.

Others simply take the easy way out and purchase from individuals, local shops, and supermarkets. Whatever the choice is, traditions are significant and important among the masses.

Jamaica, culturally, is made up of African descendants, Indians, Germans, British to name a few. Our motto, “Out of Many, One People” sums it up perfectly.

It is to be expected that traditions are a combination of practices from several cultures. In the case of sorrel, there is no limit to the different versions even in the same family or parish.

As people travel and intermingle with others, they share information and try out new ways of doing things. Despite all that, the main ingredients tend to remain the same.

What is Sorrel … Hibiscus?

Sorrel is known by different names especially in other parts of the world. Hibiscus is the most common alternative and hibiscus teabags are available in some grocery stores.

It is easily grown and found abundantly in Jamaica in time for the Christmas into New Year’s festivities. It is also common in West Africa and some other parts of the world.

Although farmers usually grow a large crop to meet the demand for the holidays, it can be cultivated on a smaller scale in backyards or on any other residential plot.

Hibiscus is another very popular plant in Jamaica which is totally different from the sorrel. That plant is commonly used as hedges for homes and the vast variations adorn hotel properties and parks.

Sorrel has nutritional value being rich in Vitamins A and C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It is used as tea any time of the year. Its taste is somewhat tart.

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Sorrel

Traditionally Jamaican … Long Live the Sorrel!

Jamaicans, like people of different cultures, take their practices with them. Even when they enjoy and participate in other cultures, their own traditions seem to be embedded in their DNA.

Sorrel is much loved and will be around to continue this endearing tradition for future generations. Christmas is only a few days away and it definitely will be in many homes.

With the focus being on Christmas Jamaican traditions, for those of us who truly enjoy this bright red concoction I say long live the sorrel!

Christmas Sorrel Recipe: As You Like It.

With or without alcohol is a matter of choice and taste. The basic ingredients are sorrel, ginger, sugar, spices, and (optional) rum. Even some individuals who do not drink alcohol enjoy a small amount added.

Traditionally, alcohol would and should be excluded if served to children. This could be done by setting some aside before adding alcohol for whosoever will.

Variations include different spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, orange peel. Remember, the Jamaican motto strongly indicates that there is an assortment of cultural differences.

Dried or fresh sorrel is used. Less, about half the amount, is used if it’s dried as this would typically be stronger.

Below is an adjustable recipe that is sure to please the palates of any gathering. All spices do not have to be used.

Christmas Sorrel Drink

  • 4 cups fresh or 2 cups dried sorrel (for example).
  • Water, enough for the number of servings you want.
  • Grated, crushed, or sliced ginger as much as desired based on tolerance for its spicy flavor.
  • Peel or grated rind of one orange, lemon, or lime (optional)
  • 1-3 cinnamon sticks or a few cinnamon leaves (optional)
  • Allspice (optional)
  • Nutmeg (optional)
  • Star Anise (optional)
  • Sugar to taste
  • Rum as desired (option). Do not include for children.

Steps

  1. Boil the water in a large pot.
  2. Remove from heat and add sorrel, ginger, other spices of choice.
  3. Cover and allow to seep for a minimum of one hour, longer for a stronger brew.
  4. Strain and sweeten to taste.
  5. Add rum, if desired, after putting some aside for children or non-alcoholic drinkers. Another alternative is to add the rum when serving.
  6. Refrigerate and add ice to serve.

Use spices that are appealing to your own taste. Sorrel, ginger, and at least one other spice is basic. Some people, maybe most, do not use a recipe. “Eyeballing” it is the way to go. You can’t go wrong; it’s that simple.

Christmas Cheers: Enjoy a Drink of Sorrel!

Christmas Jamaican traditions are often dictated by the mixed culture that exists on the island. Some individuals will still observe these traditions wherever they are in the world.

Growing, harvesting, and drinking sorrel is a very common practice not only at Christmastime but also throughout the year because of its desirable, refreshing taste and benefits.

Although it tends to be a seasonal plant, it is usually preserved in its dried form. This, like herbs in general, is stronger than the fresh flowers.

Wherever you are, whether or not you are Jamaican, of Jamaican descent or connected in any other way, Cheers to you … have a drink of sorrel this holiday season!

My father, Hector Campbell, spent most of his life farming as one of his greatest passions. He planted, harvested, sold, and prepared sorrel drink for his family and friends. Ginger was the number one addition.

It would be interesting to hear what your Christmas tradition is. If that includes sorrel, feel free to share how you and your family like it and what spectrum of the Jamaican culture are your ancestors from.

I hope you enjoyed this article, “Christmas Jamaican Traditions: Sorrel.” If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. I will be more than happy to address them.

Christmas-Jamaican-Traditions-Sorrel-Corbett
Courtesy of Errol Corbett, Montego Bay, Jamaica.