Thursday, April 29, 2010


One of my students has turned me on to rapadura. As the Wikipedia article states, it's basically dried sugar cane juice sold in bricks. Very sweet, potent stuff. It's used as a sugar substitute, and here it is eaten by itself as a candy and energy boost. My wife says it was a favorite food of her father's when he farmed during her childhood--he would eat some rapadura after lunch in order to have some quick-burning energy to take back to the fields.

The taste is pleasant, very surprising given that the odor has a bitter tinge. In Louisiana there are a number of local brands of pure cane syrup from the southern cane fields. I have never liked this syrup. If memory serves, it has a smokey quality that overpowers the sweetness. I was expecting rapadura to possess the same punch, but its caramel flavor was well balanced. The texture is lovely--it melts as it crumbles in the mouth. And a little bit goes a long way--I only ate a couple of shavings just now, with some coffee, and it's got me near jitters.

Sugar production is something in common between this region of Brazil and southern Louisiana. João Cabral de Melo-Neto, a poet from Pernambuco, has a few poems devoted to the cane fields of the region. I can't help thinking of Louisiana poet Jack Bedell, my friend and former teacher, when I read the de Melo-Neto poems. He, too, has a number of poems relating to the fields, and the hard lives of those who work them.


  1. Sounds interesting... My father was a chemist in Gramercy when I was little (and I adored the place), and we had a marvelous garden in sugar slag. Things grew like Jack's beanstalk.

  2. I lived northeast of there, near the top of Tangipahoa parish. I don't think I've ever been to St. James Parish, except maybe driving through. Sugar slag--is that the product from the cane burning that helps fertilize the soil?

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. It's just the leftovers after the sugar refining is done. But it must have been good stuff because our tomatoes climbed into the trees!