What's In Season at the Farmers Market: Autumn Sugar Cane
Felicia FriesemaSugar cane from Thuy Farm at the Hollywood market
Thanks to C&H, sugar cane will always be associated with a Hawaiian hibiscus flower in full bloom. For good reason -- Hawaii has the rainfall to support this thirstiest of crops. To grow sugar cane, you need at least six acre-feet (six foot depth over one acre) of water (that's almost two million gallons) to take cane from sprout to harvest. Thanks to the miracle of drip irrigation, those numbers are trending downward, increasing harvests as well as potential cane farm locales (the biofuel industry is looking at the bone dry Imperial Valley of all places) and farmers market availability.
Several local farmers -- Thuy Farm (Hollywood), Walker Farms (Glendale, Pasadena), Rancho Santa Cecilia (Alhambra, Burbank, Echo Park, Encino, Hollywood, and Venice) and Central Valley Farms (Hollywood) -- carry a few different varieties of sugar cane this time of year. Most will happily chop it down to a market bag-friendly size, though if you have a sugar cane juicer, the full-length cane is easier to press. For the kid in you, simply peel and chew on the fibers. Cane juice is sweet, yes, but also grassy and crisp.
Driving all this sugar cane exploration is not our food supply, but the ever-hopeful ethanol industry. If we happen to get a little local sugar out of it, great. After food and biofuel, all that's left is a mountain of bagasse, a.k.a. inedible cellulose fiber, which can then be turned into paper or compost. This multi-use attribute makes what was an environmental parasite (as far as water was concerned) into one of the more environmentally friendly crops you can grow, assuming you can fit all the logistics together.
Last year, we tapped Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, to share his recipe for homemade sugar from cane grown in his backyard. It's not a process for the easily bored -- you boil and then boil some more and then still more. For every gallon of cane juice, you will get about a cup of sugar syrup.
If patience or survivalist skill building is not your virtue, sculpt your cane into sticks and use as makeshift skewers for fish cakes, shrimp or chicken. The green sweetness imbues into the meat from the inside out.
Sugar cane will be available at the markets into December, though the canes are less juicy toward the end of the season. Freshly chopped ends of recently harvested cane will glisten a little and be a bright beige. Ask the vendor to chop it down to size -- kitchen knives are less effective than the machetes they bring to market.
Find your local market on our interactive farmers market map.