How sugarcane jaggery is made
I have always been incredibly fond of jaggery. One of my earliest memories is of sitting with my friend Madhura on the stairs of the CIDCO building we lived in, sandwiching the gooey jaggery between slit peanuts. I’m sure we made for a royal messy picture, but the thrill of the jaggery was worth anything. Since then, jaggery laced sweets have always been placed on a higher pedestal than sugar-based sweets. I love the traditional jaggery flavored semolina (that my gran makes), the modak, the gul-paapdi (whole wheat flour and jaggery squares), gulaachi poli (crisp flatbreads stuffed with a thin layer of jaggery; A Sankranti favorite), and sometimes, popping a teeny piece of jaggery when no one’s looking can make you find the world a much saner place.
My grandfather once took us on a road trip to see the village he was born in, and to see a sugar factory he was on the board of. All along the outskirts of Karad, there were endless sugarcane fields, dotted with jaggery factories. The heady aroma of the caramelizing sugarcane juice travels straight back to my nostrils every time I think of that trip.
Luckily for me, MK shares the same fondness for jaggery. So last week, on our Kolhapur trip, I was keen on showing MK a slice of my childhood. We drove to the outskirts of Kolhapur and found one little place selling mounds of organic jaggery and kaakvi (a by-product; much like maple syrup in consistency and flavor). The last batch of the day’s jaggery was in its final processing stage. The making of jaggery itself sounds fairly simple—you start with freshly squeezed sugarcane juice that looks so mucky you wouldn’t want to touch it, leave alone drink it. It gets filtered through fine muslin into a gigantic wok, and is left to evaporate. Three muscular men bearing large spatulas circle this wok, stirring the syrup in a fine rhythm. One the syrup reaches the desired consistency, a teeny bit of calcium carbonate is added to the wok and the golden syrup is poured into a large cooling pit in the center of the workshop. The triple-stirring continues as the jaggery begins to thicken. Meanwhile, moulds of all sizes are lined with wet muslin cloths, ready to be filled. The setting jaggery is then scooped into the moulds and left to dry. The workers are usually happy to show off their art, so you almost always get a bit of freshly made, finger scalding jaggery to taste.
We came away impressed and high on sugar.