This article was originally published under the same title in the Metro Plus
supplement of The Hindu newspaper, Coimbatore, on 28 February, 2019.
The making of organic jaggery is a beautifully choreographed process that employs tremendous skill and dexterity
The sweet smell of boiling sugarcane juice greets us as we approach a small thatched shed. The background music of the thrumming sugarcane crusher and the spiral of smoke going skywards from the roof augurs well as farmer Kannan and his wife Satya welcome us with freshly extracted sugarcane juice with as many refills as we want.
My mother who is from a sugarcane growing region in Kerala has regaled us with her childhood memories of the intoxicating sweetness of sugarcane juice and the large jaggery balls. And I can’t wait to see for myself how the jaggery is made.
Kannan and his team process the crop right at the farm. The thatched shed is the makeshift sugarcane processing unit that is shifted from one ready-to-harvest farm to another. A massive furnace is dug into the ground. The juice is poured into a large pan that can hold almost 400 to 500 litres and stirred continuously with the fire underneath being constantly adjusted. The fuel of choice is the dried sugarcane bagasse. The boiling sugarcane juice is cleaned using very small quantities of baking soda (and in some cases the juice of okra stems) to bring up all the dirt and impurities. It is then filtered and the dregs are used in the farm as manure to fertilise the fields.