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Learning Every Moment (Part 4): Where does My food Come From; How’s it Made?

learning every moment, how's molasses made

In the Malnad (hilly region) region of Karnataka (South of India) that Avie belongs to, jaggery is a very important ingredient in every dish – no matter sweet or savory (check out this banana bread recipe I shared earlier). The form of jaggery that’s used here is not solid but viscous, quite like black strap molasses In fact, if you were to have a look at it (or taste it for that matter), you’d most likely think of it as Black Strap Mollases rather than jaggery. Even during the making process only one step separates the black, lustrous Mollases from the thick, dark, viscous jaggery that I’m talking about.

As much as we love the semi-liquid, humble jaggery (called ‘Bella‘ in Kannada) for its finger-licking taste and nutritional value (it’s packed with iron, calcium, copper, manganese, magnesium, and many trace minerals), it’s the process of making it that’s fascinating beyond doubt.

Each time we visit Sagara (this is where my in-laws live), if it’s February or early March, a visit to the Ale Mane (sugar cane house) is a must-do.

In this 4th story of the Learning Every Moment series, I want to share about our experience of seeing where our food comes from and how it’s made. In cities, this is one big and important link that we and our children miss. We go to super stores, purchase our food in packets without ever getting a glimpse into the stage where the food (raw) is grown or processed into its edible form.

Knowing what goes into the making of food in the hands of the farmer will probably lead our children to appreciate its value much more than they may otherwise do. I know that’s happened for Pari. She always loved eating bella, as a dip, with her dose or idli or utttapam, but ever since she’s she’s seen how the bella is made – with so much labour of love, it’s become precious for her. (She’d seen a few times in the past few years but this time around, due to the age she’s at – 7 yrs – her understanding and appreciation of it has been stark.

So, why don’t I share the whole process with you. I think, you’ll love seeing the pictures and reading about the steps involved in the making of jaggery or black strap molasses.

sugar cane field

The ale mane (sugar came house) that we went to this time is a little more mechanized than the ones we’ve been to earlier. Those were totally hand- and animal-driven.

sugar cane juice karnataka, sagara

In the first step of the process, where the sugar cane juice is extracted, this one used machine but most still rely on bullock power.

Mommy Labs

The juice flows through pipes into huge vessels placed on fire.

The fire is fueled by the left-over once the juice has been squeezed out.

how's jaggery made

This boiling hot syrup is constantly stirred releasing dirty froth on the surface. This is considered impurity and is removed to be used as manure for the soil.

Once the froth has been removed, the boiling reaches a point where any more would cause damage to the juice. Just before that point, they have to empty the vessel. This is the stage where the viscous jaggery – called bella – is formed.

The bella is passed through a cloth-seive and collected in a compartment – slightly below the ground level.

From there, it’s filled into big jars and collected by the farmers to sell to individual house-holds.

This sugar cane house makes large-scale jaggery on behalf of the many farmers from near-by villages. It’s basically a co-operative where each farmer brings his sugar cane produce to get it converted into jaggery. For if each farmer were to set up a process to make jaggery out of his limited sugar cane produce, it’d be a costly and cumbersome affair.

Not only did we purchase freshly-made jaggery here, but we also got to drink fresh sugar cane juice  (flavored by ginger and lemon) and eat piping hot jaggery on plantain leaves. It’s nothing like the cold and solid jaggery that you find in grocery stores in India, believe me. This semi-liquid jaggery has an aroma that will fill you all the way down to your lungs and a gooey, silky texture that’ll melt in your mouth, leaving you addicted to the taste.

In a nutshell – it’s heavenly. It’s the nectar of the Gods! No exaggeration, I swear. And hey, sorry, if this seems tangential, but it’s worth sharing – if you have some greying strands (or even bunch) of hair playing peek-a-boo through your otherwise young tresses, eating jaggery regularly can possibly reverse the greying process. This is because Jaggery is rich in copper.

does it take a village to raise a child? what does it mean?

These experiences and learnings remind me of the African saying: It takes a village to raise a child.

Not that I agree with it fully, but there’s surely an iota of truth in it. It’s in villages that the children get to see their folks tilling land, sowing seeds, raising cattle, weaving baskets, taking care of lands, harvesting grain, collecting rain water and basically working with their hands in close connection with their community and nature. While in cities, majority of us are trapped in consuming mindlessly and generating waste; waste that creates acres of land-fills.

How on earth will our children (or, we adults, for that matter) ever come to realize what it takes to grow food or where does it come from.  Or, what can we do to alter the looming food crisis in 2013 that’s going to impact our world.

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PS: If you missed the first three stories in the Learning Every Moment series that I’ve written in the past 10 days, here you go

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Sadhana Bhagwat February 26, 2013, 2:18 pm

    lovely write up Rashmie. brought back all the old memories of our trips to Aalemane every year and of course of our summer vacation in Kaligere (previous article). we would spend all our mornings roaming around the countryside, afternoons on the favourite “geru mara” (cashew tree) and evenings again running around the country side or visiting people. every day was an experience!!! thanks for bringing it all back.

  • Sunita March 1, 2013, 6:08 am

    Wonderful pictures! We homeschool in the US and my kids don’t know what jaggery is, but we use NCERT for math and the next chapter uses an example of jaggery. I will show the kids these pictures! This is also very timely, because this is the season in the northeastern US when we collect and boil maple tree sap to make maple syrup and maple sugar. It will be fun to compare the processes. Thank you!

  • Ann March 6, 2013, 7:33 am

    So interesting! Love how they use the spent cane as fuel. I wonder if it is like brown sugar here. I gotta get my hands on some of that – I have lots of gray hair to correct 😉

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