Miel de Caña
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Sociedad y Cultura
The classic definition of a family farm is a household that owns most of the land, supplies most of the labor, and subsists primarily on farm earnings. Family farming is based on the work of all family members and is a way of life for many rural Costa Ricans. They produce for personal consumption, and also to sell locally for cash money, sometimes selling door-to-door around town. One of the first things that I loved about living here in Costa Rica was how campesinos (someone who lives in the campo or outside of town in the countryside) would show up at my door selling something freshly grown, produced or prepared. For the past couple of years I’ve been buying locally produced miel de caña, cane syrup from a real caballero, and I expressed an interest in visiting his farm to see how it was made. I was promptly invited and today I visited the finca of Don Angel Garbanzo Mora, to find out a little about his history, learn about his lifestyle, and watch him produce miel de caña.
Don Angel was born in Uvita and made his way to the Osa some 47 years ago at the age of 15. He came here with a brother to work in agriculture and helped farm corn, rice, and beans. Five years later he met his wife Ester and they started a family on a 20-hectare farm up in Río Nuevo. There they farmed for 15 years, and after 5 years of negotiations with the Costa Rican government they were bought out to form the forestry reserve. They moved to Jimenez and owned and operated a pulpier for many years but longed for life in the campo. So they sold the business and bought their current 3 hectare finca in Gallardo, where they live a typical small farm ura-vida lifestyle.
Don Angel and his son Albis work the farm with the help of their wives and his grandchildren. Their place is immaculate and picturesque, with fields of grass grazing cows, tidy pig pen, chicken coops and horse sheds, crops for consumption and animal feed, and many beautiful flowering tropical bushes and plants. They consume what they raise and sell the extra. The work is hard, but the rewards are great. Their pigs are fed solely on crops that they grow themselves, and I’ve got my order in for ribs the next go around!
As if saving the best for last, all the way at the far end of the property is where you find the fields of sugar cane and the miel production. The cane is cut, stripped of the outer leaves, and stacked next to the press. A horse is attached to a post of hard wood that turns the wheel of the press. One person feeds the cane into the press and another guide it out the other side and discards it. On this day that was Don Angel and his 11- and 12year old grandsons David and Brian. It’s a tricky business to avoid being clonked in the head by the hard wood post or getting tangled in the horse’s rope or stepped on by its hooves, all the while feeding the cane and watching the bucket to see when it is full. But these two were pros and even sent me home with a 2-liter bottle of fresh cane juice, yummy. Next the juice is strained and mixed with the sticky bark from a bush called masote, which acts as a magnet to extract impurities. Then it goes into the cauldron and is boiled over a wood fire for eight hours until it is reduced down to a pourable syrup. During this reduction process the foam on top is skimmed off so as not to have a cloudy final product. The foam is not bad, and is considered a treat by the children, others as well. It takes forty gallons of cane juice to make five gallons of syrup! After it cools it’s bottled up in recycled plastic soda bottles and sold locally.
The beauty of this golden amber liquid is not only the rich, tangy sweet, molasses flavor, but that it’s organic, unrefined, and contains B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Enjoy it in your coffee or tea, on your pancakes or waffles, to sweeten your oatmeal, or like I just did, by the spoon full!
Note: If you’d like to purchase miel de caña or other farm produced goods, Don Angel and his wife Ester can be contacted at 8571-9418