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August 02, 2004

Sugar Cane Mill (Trapiche)

We heard that Roberto had an old sugar cane mill on his farm that he didn't use.  We decided to check it out. It was a bit overgrown, but still quite complete. Some of the parts had fallen off, but we dug them out from under the surrounding vegetation. There were also a few old tools lying around.

The mill is probably from the late 1800s. It was made by a Columbus Ironworks; the company still exists though they no longer make sugar cane mills.

After testing the mill with some cane that was conveniently growing right next to it, we decided to buy the mill from Roberto. The initial attempt to carry the mill in one piece out of the jungle, to the dock, and bring it to my place was not a good one. The thing weighs close to a ton!  So we took it apart, brought it over, cleaned it up, reassembled it, and set it up on the path up the hill where we already had some sugar cane growing.

The skinny guy in the picture with the water and coral in the background is Roberto. He was very happy that we appreciated the mill, which had been in his family for so long,  and that we are putting it to use. He had all sorts of good advice, including to be careful about the bees: "All klind of bees.. dem africaner how dem call it". I love Guari-Guari... it's a very interesting language. )

The mill is the 2 HP model; but it can also be operated by 2 humans running around in circles in lieu of horses. A third person feeds the cane, which is crushed between to solid cast iron wheels that are connected through gears. The wheels are a bit thinner at the top, so thicker cane is fed in higher. After a first pass, the cane is folded in the middle and fed through again. A third pass can be done by twisting the folded cane and will yield even more juice. One 6ft piece of cane can yield about a quart of juice; more after heavy rains. The juice spoils quickly, so we usually put ice in it and drink some right away (with lemon). The remainder goes in the freezer for sugar cane margaritas (the best!). After we got the mill, our processed sugar consumption went almost to zero; we now use the juice to sweeten most foods.

We also tried to make Guarapo -- a fermented sugar cane drink. Not very good, really; but some locals like it. It is fizzy, and much of the sugar must have been converted to alcohol, since it is not nearly as sweet as the juice.

At some point it would probably be worth it to do some maintenance work on the mill -- there is a mechanism for adjusting the distance between the wheels that no longer works. Also, we'd like to try to make replica of the mill from wood since these mills are so hard to get now.

Posted by rick at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)