Harvesting and Processing Juice in Blue Creek (Belize)
PHOTOGRAPHS AND TEXT BY JEAN-PHILIPPE SOULÉ 1999
Sugar cane grows widely in the tropics. Large plantations provide much sugar for the world population, but small villages like the Mayan community of Blue Creek still grow a limited amount of cane to produce their own sugar. They grow two types of sugar cane. The sweetest and juiciest is the green type. The red one produces a harder wood. Both are excellent to chew on.
Before you grab yourself one of those green canes, you need to be careful because it is protected by a skin armed with hair like needles which will break into your skin. After peeling that skin off, you can split it open and chew on it and enjoy the sweet juice coming out.
To harvest cane, Heraldo cuts a cane, then chops it in 4 foot pieces cut at an angle so as to be able to feed the cane through the tight rollers of the manual juice press. He stacks a few on his shoulder and carries them back home to the machine.
Extracting the juice
This machine was built by Heraldo's grand-father. Extracting the juice is a family activity. The children feed the cane in on one side and remove it on the other, while two adults (usually men) do the hard work of cranking the press wheels. All the juice is funneled into a bucket below the machine with large banana leaves. The cane stalks are pressed 3 times through the machine to extract all the juice. After the hard work, Heraldo shows us the full bucket of sweet juice and all the family comes to dip their plastic bowls in the bucket. The sweet juice was delicious and refreshing (see photo of Luke drinking it with Heraldo). The rest of the juice will be boiled to make molasses or granulated sugar.
Heraldo in his sugar cane field ; Showing us the angled cut ; The family at work to extract sugar ; The bucket is full ; Luke and Heraldo enjoying the juice
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