Miel de Caña?

The literal translation of miel de caña is 'honey of sugar cane', but we know it in English as molasses or black treacle. The production of miel de caña was, at one time, the principal industry of this region, and indeed as you drive around today you will still see small stands on untended ground where the cane is growing but neglected. In Torre del Mar, about twenty minutes drive to the west of here, a former mill has been restored and converted to use as (I think) a museum. Between Nerja town and the Nerja Caves, stands a large, derelict and ruined building which was a sugar mill. Here in Frigiliana, however, we have a mill which is still operational, producing the miel de caña which is widely on sale throughout Spain. El Ingenio, as it is called, is the last surviving cane mill in operation in the whole of Europe, and so understandably we are very proud of it and like to show it off to visitors. Unfortunately most of the year that isn't possible; you can't have people wandering around a working food factory for both hygiene and safety reasons. Three years ago we introduced a new fiesta to the village, Êl Día de la Miel de Caña, when the factory is opened for guided tours explaining the old machinery and the traditional production process. There are stalls selling products which have the molasses as an ingredient, and some of the restaurants put on a special menu incorporating the molasses into the dishes, savoury as well as sweet. Yesterday we had this year's Day, beautiful, warm and sunny with a clear blue sky. Historically the cane was harvested and loaded into panniers on the backs of mules to be brought to the mill. There it was chopped into suitable lengths and fed into presses which crushed the cane and released the sweet sap. The sap was then boiled to drive off excess moisture until it assumed its dark, viscous quality. The raw material, sugar cane, was an easy crop to establish even on poor ground. Essentially it is a grass and so once it has rooted you're home and dry. You let it grow to the stage you need, then you cut it. Like grass it continues growing, and so you can come back and back cutting it and using it. The twenty first century approach, however, is rather different. Mules and panniers have been replaced by LGVs and forklift trucks. Instead of cane there are pallet loads of granulated, white sugar to be boiled down into molasses, and so there is no longer any call for locally grown sugar cane, which is progress, but also a shame in a way.

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