I realized I hadn’t shared a lot of what I’ve done with sugar cane over the last while. This actually predates the sugar paste experiments. So here’s a huge update heavy on the photos. (Also a shameless test of the new photo plugin I’m using for enlarging photos on click)
First, my failed sugar cane juice crystallization experiments:
I started with a cane I got from the supermarket during Chineese New Year, one of the few times it’s available in Canada at standard grocery stores.
The cane was very hard to cut, but tasted great to chew, and worked well as an addition to drinks.
The cane was so hard that I had to cut it thin and use a pasta roller to get the juice out of it, this was hugely time consuming.
I attempted to boil and crystallize a small amount of the cane juice, it didn’t work. The sugars had already inverted and it wouldn’t crystallize.
Jump forward a year and I used a different type of cane this time that I got from T&T which has it a bit more often, but still rarely. They do however frequently sell frozen sugar cane that’s about 1/2″ thick (maybe from the top of the cane, or immature?) and has been pre-peeled. Fun fact: although cane comes in many varieties the method of extraction remains essentially the same and the final refined product is identical. This cane was much easier to juice, but first I wanted to try the oldest method of extraction we know about.
The oldest method, used by the Indians for centuries before the Arabs started growing it, is to boil the sugar cane in a pot with water then boil the resulting juice down into a syrup and crystallize it.
Boiling away. This smells earthy but not bad. It’s also a halfway decent way of extracting the juice, though the edge-mill method is the best pre-modern method, but I don’t have the mill stone for that.
Sugar cane juice, time to boil it down.
Ack, no crystallization, not even with seed crystals added. I’m learning all about why sugar cane is juiced shortly after harvesting. Even with modern methods the sugar has inverted by the time it gets to Canada. Looks like without having sugar cane grown locally this won’t work. (Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of it cooling, but there was no crystallization with that either)
Oh, uh, I tried a second batch, and this is what happens when you think it might start crystallizing if you boil it a bit more and then forget about it.
I’ll be trying again sometime, I have a few ideas that might make it work but I think I’m just not working with fresh enough cane.
Next up is my experiment last year with growing some cane.
Yes, you can plant sugar cane you buy at the grocery store. Just make sure you cut it so there are two full segments, including three nodes (the rings). This was April 28.
It’s alive, alive! Also we live in Calgary so I had to grow it inside for a few months. May 24.
Once it was up it grew fast. May 26.
Transplant time. June 8.
By this point it was warm enough for it to be outside. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very warm summer so I didn’t get as much growth as I’d hoped. July 25.
I wanted to see how it would grow naturally, though I suspect if I had trimmed the off shoots it would have grown taller. August 11.
Here’s a shot of the base. August 11.
Here’s how it looked in September, about a week before I cut it. I trimmed the off shoots so I could see the central cane better. I could probably have continued it inside, but even then the growing season just isn’t long enough in Calgary, you’d really need a warm greenhouse. September 13.
Well I managed to get the very beginning of a true cane. there’s one node (the rings) but you need a section that has at least two nodes to re-plant it. I did however cut up some of it and suck on the juice and, yep, it’s sugar cane. There’s a slim chance that it will come back next year (in the tropics Cane grows for about three years) but with how cold the cold-snap was in early October (about two weeks after this photo I think) I doubt it will grow back, and I haven’t been able to find any more cane this year. If I do I’ll plant it expecting it to be a primarily indoor plant. September 19.
So there are my experiments so far with sugar cane. Hopefully I will come across some more at the grocery store, but you really have to get it during Chinese New Year, it isn’t stocked very much other times of the year. Also, although I’m going to try one more time, I’m pretty sure that the cane isn’t fresh enough to crystallize the juice from it, however, I plant to try growing it again.