November, 2012. Henderson, Louisiana. Raisin’ Cane

Posted on November 11, 2012

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From dawn to dusk they rumble by. The big semi-trailers loaded with just-harvested sugar cane shake our little home as they roll past our bedroom window.

Their destination is the Louisiana Sugar Cooperative near St. Martinville, where the bamboo-like stalks will be turned into raw sugar and black strap molasses.

This huge, modern factory-like facility on the northeast bank of the Bayou Teche sits on the same general location where cane has been processed for a very long time.

Undated painting of Lizimi Plantation house

In 1890 John Baptiste Levant purchased the old Lizimi Plantation (circa 1828) and re-named it St. John Plantation. As was the custom at the time, there was a mill on the site that processed the harvest of their own fields.

Eventually the St. John mill was sold to a group of area cane farmers and incorporated as St. Martin Sugar Cooperative. As has been the case with all things agricultural, eventually this small co-op merged with another small co-op, the Breaux Bridge Sugar Co-op, to form Louisiana Sugar Cane Co-op, Inc. which has, since its formation in 1993, grown to be a really BIG co-op.

Sugarcane is delivered in either wagons or trucks, then washed and crushed. The juice is boiled down to thick syrup. What’s left – the juiced-out fibrous material called bagasse – is pressed and burned to power the mill. The thick syrup is separated into raw sugar crystals and molasses.

The raw sugar goes to refiners who melt the crystals, remove the remaining impurities and color, and produce white or “refined” sugar.  (Commercial brown sugar is just white sugar given a brief molasses rinse.)

LSC sells the nutritious, iron-rich molasses to producers of animal feed.

Animal feed??

Hopefully at least SOME of that good Louisiana molasses goes to New Orleans’s Celebration Distillation Corporation, the oldest premium rum distillery in the continental U. S., even though it only dates to the 1990’s.

Rum is from made from molasses by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels.

According to Celebration’s website, “…the distinct flavor and deep natural tone of the distillery’s Old New Orleans Rum is derived without the use of additives or coloring. It is 100% natural. Using high-grade syrup from Louisiana cane in a slow batch process, a balance of flavors is achieved (sweet molasses, oak, maple syrup, vanilla and caramel) that sets it apart from everything else called rum.”

Rum is considered to be the world’s oldest distilled spirit, and the majority of it is produced in either the Caribbean or in Latin America. However, it IS fitting that New Orleans should be the home of a rum distillery – after all, one of the ingredients of a Hurricane is rum.

And, by the way, the old Lizimi/St. John plantation house still stands next to the LSC mill and is maintained and used by the Co-op for special events.

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