Sugar Cane is a major crop here and in the coming week we plan to take a Sugarland Tour out of Clewiston to learn about this industry. But yesterday Ortona, a small town just across the Caloosahatchee River from The Glades RV Park, held a Sugar Cane Grinding Festival. We had to drive 40 kms around to cross the river.There are not a lot of bridges here and, as the river is a major inland waterway between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Okeechokbee, all bridges must be high enough, or open, to let boats through.
Cost to enter the festival grounds was $9 per adult and included lunch.
The first thing we saw as we entered was the area where lunch was prepared and served:
It was highly organized - very impressive. Food was prepared at the far end, assembled into meals in styrofoam containers and sold at this end. It was a barbeque menu: bbq chicken or pork, baked potatoes, coleslaw and a roll. This is the main barbeque pit:
They cooked with a layer of charcoal coals topped with live oak wood for smoke flavour. The man who started the fire arrived at 5 am to get it going and hot. The feastval opened at 10 so I expect they started cooking at 9.
Behind this permanent pit were 2 more portable barbeques. This one, on loan from the Sheriff's Department:
Which cooked a lot of chicken at once:
This was a good thing as they expected to serve 800 meals by 3 pm.
The third barbeque was used to cook the baked potatoes:
If the rest of the pictures have hazy spots it is due to smoke from all these barbeques, We were tempted to eat immediately but decided to wander and check out the rest of the grounds.
First to the main attraction:
Cane grinding is really very simple. sugar cane is inserted in a grinder much like a wood chipper (to my eyes, others may disagree). The sugar cane is shredded, rather than ground, and the resulting juice is captured:
From then on the process of making cane syrup is much like the process for making maple syrup.
The syrup is boiled down in a pot built into what looks a lot like an outdoor oven:
The fire is lit under the pot:
And the cane juice bubbles away in the pot until it reaches the desired consistency:
When thick enough it is bottled and sold. They tell us most people use it on pancakes or waffles or in baked beans.
Don't you love the expressions on their face as they await Arch's opinion on the syrup. Fortunately he liked it. It was very sweet though. Much, much sweeter than maple syrup.
Then we visited a booth selling a wide variety of preserves made with swamp cabbage and cane sugar:
Swamp cabbage is a local product made from the core of one particular type of palm tree. It has been eaten in this part of the country since it was first settled and was introduced to European settlers by the local Indians. It is harvested by chopping down the palm and cutting out the core:
You may know it as hearts of palm. I am not sure how well you can see this picture of the harvesting process. Click on it to enlarge it. This may look like a lot of the bush is wasted but so. The leaves are used for the roofs of chikees, a structure originally used for shelter by the Indians and Crackers and now is used on sheds, etc. And the remainder is burned. This palm is regarded as a weed so....
We purchased several products:
Interesting name for this one:
Time to eat. Arch got the pork lunch:
I know. I don't eat meat. We brought the chicken home and cut it up to use in sandwiches for Arch. The baked potato and coleslaw (under the baked potato in this picture) were enough lunch for me. Along with dessert:
We found a spot under the live oaks to enjoy our lunch:
And music by a local country band:
And clog dancers from a local dance school. So cute:
The festival appeared to be staged by the entire community with strong support from the local Sheriff's Department:
All funds raised go to support the community's children. So on our way out we purchased our week's produce from this booth:
All in all we had a great time. Next week is the Sour Orange Festival in another small town close to here. We will let you know how it goes.