Living the good life!
Back when I was a child in our barrio, Marag, Luna, Kalinga-Apayao, Mountain Province, my family used to practise self-sufficiency. We grew, made and/or found our own daily food . In the 1970s, there were no real vegetable or meat markets in Marag. If you don’t plant rice and vegetables, then you’ve got to forage for edible ferns called paku or pick clams and go fishing, otherwise you won’t eat!
We had a large farm in Marag. It was/is in Alit-tagan. We planted everything, but funnily enough, I can’t remember if we ever planted potatoes. Instead we planted sweet potatoes. This was much better for self-sufficiency because the leaves, especially the new growth of the sweet potatoes make a very good salad dish. Just blanch them in hot water and then add lots of tomatoes and spring onions with a dash of fish sauce or even better, with fish bagoong like padas.
In our farm we also planted sugar cane, my favourite. To plant cane, you have to cut a long pole of sugar cane in several segments ensuring that the joints in the pole are left intact. It is in these joints that the new shoots will spring from as well as the new roots. We also used the strong side shoots of the sugar canes to replant and even the bushy heads of the sugar canes which were trimmed before replanting.
My father used to plough the earth and we children would drop cane joints at 12 inch/foot long intervals into the prepared soil. We would use our feet to then brush the soil over the cane to lightly cover them.
After about 4-6 months of regular watering & weeding, the canes were ready to harvest. These canes are delicious when chewed. I like the cane that are not fully mature. They were softer and easier to chew. The sweet juice you get is so worth the chore of biting and chewing a fibrous pole; we then spat out the chewed out fibres. 🙂
Those canes that we have not managed to chew, lol, were harvested with a sharp cut near the roots using a jungle bolo, a long robust knife.
After they had been topped and tailed, they are run in between two cylindrical wooden mangles to drain every bit of the juices. This is a long process, cumbersome and hard work. We needed the help of our friendly, patient giant carabao named Siccubing, to pull the long wooden handle of the mangle. We used to have fun following the carabao as it went round and round the mangle. It was always a bit of a giggle as we would all end up queasy and much to my parents indulgent annoyance would get in the way of the industrious, Siccubing. By the way, I love Siccubing so much, carabao is my favourite animal in the world, a true beast of burden.
During break time for Siccubing he will be allowed to have a drink of water and would be led into our rice field ditch. He always got his revenge on us kids because when were riding this gentle beast, he would never give a sign of he will do next; he would just plop into any body of water, whether muddy or deep. We on his back would be soaked or muddied and had to make our own way to safety and later face our mother’s wrath. 🙂
Anyway the juices extracted from the sugar cane crop can be several gallons, which were then transferred into a huge vat.
My father, dug a huge hole near our Nipa Hut farm-house. The hole would be used as a furnace to hold the huge vat with woods from twigs, chopped tree trunks, dried bamboos & dried coconut leaves as fuel. The juice would simmer for up to 4 hours until the juice start to thicken. Any social services personnel would have had apoplexy seeing four children sitting around a boiling lava of sugar juice in a huge vat unattended. Thinking about it now, it was certainly an OMG moment 🙂 I supposed it was a different world then; we were brought up to have responsibilities at an early age and knew what was right from what was wrong.
During the last hour of the boiling process, my father would give the cooking juice which had now turned into treacle, a molten golden syrup of absolute sweetness, a stir using a huge wooden paddle. He would then drop several chunks of cassavas’ outer skin which will caramelised in the sugar. This was our treat for being good children. The cassava skins were delicious, crunchy and coated with sublime sweetness 🙂
The finished product will be liquid which is called in Ilocano as tagapulot. It is often stored in huge earthenware jars. Overtime the top bit of the tagapulot in jars will crystallise into sugar granules. I must admit I would sneak up and get the liquidy tagapulot and wind it over and over a spoon. This was taste of heaven. I would eat boiled rice with the tagapulot with breakfast and that was the most delicious marvellous memory of childhood for me 🙂