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Monday, October 3, 2011

It's Finally Fall in the South!

Now, don't be thinking we're putting on sweaters, or raking leaves, or anything CRAZY like that!!  Here on the Gulf Coast,  "Fall" simply means the end of an infernal, humid-as-hell, seemingly endless summer, and the arrival of more moderate temperatures and a humidity level several notches below "sweaty". Lately, our nighttime temps have dropped to the 60's, with a daytime high of about 85, with an extremely comfortable 30% humidity!

Queen Ginger was REALLY reminded of Fall in Louisiana when her business trip took her down I-10, from Baton Rouge to Lafayette.  As she drove through the old plantation country, she saw truckloads of sugarcane going one direction, with truckloads of bagasse and tankers of syrup going the other!!

In the "old days", cane and bagasse were hauled by train, and every Fall, Momma G would reminisce about the cane trains coming by Aunt Nen's property, and Momma and her friend would wave to the conductor, who would throw them pieces of the sweet, stringy cane, already peeled and ready to chew!  Nowadays, most the cane is hauled by truck, and there's a lot more bagasse to haul than their used to be!

For those not "in the know", bagasse is the by-product of sugar production. Basically, it's the fibrous stems of the sugar cane that are left after they are pulverized to remove all of the sugar-rich juice.  Perhaps one of the original biofuels, bagasse made the sugar plantations some of the most efficient industries in the world at the time, because the bagasse was burned in furnaces to boil the sugar down into syrup and provide the heat for the refining and crystallization processes.  Today, most Louisiana processors create syrup from their cane, which is trucked to crystallization plants around the country.  This preserves the bagasse to be sold for more modern uses.  Today, bagasse is used to create paper, biofoam plates and cups, fuel pellets for home heating, and recently, scientists at Louisiana's ag schools have even developed liquid biofuels from bagasse! 

And worry ye not that the poor folks of the South don't have the delicious smell of burning leaves to celebrate Fall- we have our own version!  Sugar cane is a 2-year crop, and typically, what is planted in the spring is harvested in 18 months, the following October.  A farmer can get a couple of good harvests out of a field of canes, and then, he must replace them to maintain a good yield.  After harvesting the last crop from a set of roots,  the farmer will set the field afire, to burn the stubs and roots into carbon, which he will then till into the soil to provide additional nutrients to next years crops! More efficiency, and the fragrance of the burning fields can be smelled for miles- our own version of burning leaves! The burning also keep the rodent and reptile population in check, lest the farm become overrun with those nasty creatures!

My next post will cover another South Louisiana Fall tradition, and I recenlty saw Nutwood Beth's post about making apple butter.  What are the Fall celebrations and traditions in your neck of the woods?


David Dust said...

I always know it's fall in NYC because the subway goes from hot/really stinky to cold/not-as-stinky.


mrs. miss alaineus said...

i never knew that about sugar cane- this is so cool to know!

now i need to get my bagasse into bed :D

see you in scrabble land!


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Glad the heat has finally broke, and even some rain mixed in.

Coelha :B said...

Fall in the South sounds really nice! :) I love the story about the sugar cane train your mother told you about---must have been a highlight for children back then. THanks for sharing! :) Happy Fall!

theminx said...

So is that pronounced "bag-ass" or Emeril-style "bag-ass-ee?"

Miss Ginger Grant said...

Minx: I've always heard it pronounced "bag-ass"...

Anonymous said...

Good info. We saw Sugarcane fields and the old cooking pots when we toured the Laura Plantation by New Orleans this summer. MBC

Beth said...

I got to gnaw on a piece of sugarcane at a plantation in Jamaica. It was so tasty!

The other night, I made some cornbread to go with our chili, and put some of the apple butter on it. Ohhhh man, was that ever good!


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