Sugar cane certainly does! More of that anon.
This morning we left at 8.00 and set off into the hills to the west of San Jose, looking for a sugar cane farmer and his processing plant. Again the views were spectacular and the roads steep and windy.
Eventually we pulled into a yard to discover it was not the right one. We left and bumped down mud roads until a small processing plant emerged from the hillside surrounded by cane fields. The sweet smell of sugar filled the year, but it is a lot more pleasant than the smell of sugar beet being processed.
We met Don Alberto who owns the farm and helps run the co-op which now has 65 members all producing organic and Fairtrade dulce. This is not white sugar but brown and uncontaminated by chemicals. Locally it is sold in moist blocks. It is used to make ‘sugar water’ which is very popular in Costa Rica. But most of it is sold in granular form to markets in Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy. Some of it is used in the chocolate industry.
First we watched the cane being crushed to extract the juice. Much of the fibre that is left is used to fire the boiler to heat the juice. From there e juice goes into vertical boilers and heated to about 130C…very hot. It should then be pumped into an open vat where it is heated again until it is ready to crystalise. It should, but the pump had broken so bucketfuls had to be poured in by hand.
When the boiled juice is ready it is emptied into a metal trough. It is stirred in different ways depending on whether it is to form crystals or to be poured into moulds to make blocks.
Either way the result is delicious. If has a very rich flavour, more like a muscovado sugar. The crystals are put into sacks or or small bags for sale. Fairtrade has made a real difference to thus community as the premium has been used to invest in the business and develop the processing plant. It has also helped to build a local secondary school for the poorest in the local community who couldn’t afford the bus fares into the secondary school in the local big town. It was a fascinating morning. If Sugar Kane had had a good education she wouldn’t have ended up with Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators!
We retraced our steps back to San Jose and had an interesting lunch in a restaurant in the centre of town. No rice and beans but a fried egg and a slab of cheese with cassava chips and a salad…. Rather yummy! Then we hit the National Museum which begins with a butterfly hall where the most beautiful species flit about, breed, pupate and die. The museum is in the old barracks, no longer needed as Costa Rica doesn’t have an army!
We walked a little way around the town centre and visited the National Theatre. If we had known we could have looked around it for $10 a head, but we were running out of time. Now back at the hotel we are preparing for our farewell dinner…..where did the time go?
This may be the last blog,but I may have time to do one tomorrow. If I don’t, forgive me, and remember, “nobody’s perfect”!