Balicucha Making in Ilocos (step by step photos)

The Art of Balicucha Making in Ilocos Sur

Little did I know that as early as childhood I was already absorbing influences for a blogging/writing career. Balicucha candies were among the things my second mom, my yaya Cion, would buy for me from the Laoag public market. I knew they were made from sugarcane juice much like palinang and tagapulot (molasses), but I always imagined they were part of the froth or something because of their rather whitish color.

I met these balicucha candies once again at pasalubong stores and coffee shops in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. It has the texture of honeycomb toffee when it’s fresh. A grown-up way to enjoy balicucha is to drop one (in place of sugar) into coffee, and you get a beautiful toasty caramel flavored coffee like no other in an instant. Balicucha also happens to be one of the popular flavors of a well-loved local ice cream made by the Bungro community in San Ildefonso.

Ilocos Sur Balicucha

Fortunately, I stumbled upon the balicucha makers of Santa Maria at Ilocos Sur’s Kannawidan Festival food and trade fair while doing my research for FoodPrints. Most of the balicucha we get to enjoy today are made by the sugarcane farming communities in Sta. Maria.

Santa Maria is home to another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ilocos, the Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Church. The fertile lands of the town bring forth sugarcane among its principal crops. Balicucha might be as old as the dadapilan (sugarcane presser). Other than balicucha, products coming from the several pagdapilan in Santa Maria are muscovado, basi (Ilocano wine) and vinegar. A steel sugarcane crusher has taken the place of the antiquated, original dadapilan from wood. We were actually asked if we wanted the traditional carabao-drawn or the modernized tractor-aided dadapilan.

The photos of balicucha making were shot while Chef Sandy Daza was being filmed in Maynganay Norte for FoodPrints Ilocos Sur.

I Shaped a Balicucha

Trying to form balicucha, in fact the entire process of creating these sugarcane candies, is something I never imagined learning.

I Shaped a BalicuchaSta. Maria, Ilocos SurPagdapilan

Balicucha making starts here. Sugarcane stalks are fed into the mill while a carabao pulls the log (attached to the presser), moving in circular direction, while juice is being extracted.

DadapilanPagdapilanAt a "Pagdapilan"Ilocos Native Molasses

Pure sugarcane juice is cooked until it caramelizes.

TagapulotBalicucha MakingBalicucha Making

Once ready, the hot caramel-colored molasses hardens fast. Quite difficult to do if you are a first timer, the mass is stretched and looped repeatedly until it manifests an even creamy white shade. From there, small portions for balicucha pieces are pinched out.

Balicucha MakerBalicucha MakingBalicucha MakingBalicuchaBalicucha MakingExtra Large BalicuchaLittle girl awaits cascaronBalicucha Making

They are allowed to bake under the sun before they are packed and sent to consignees and stalls lining the national highway in Sta. Maria.

Sugarcane products in Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur

With special thanks to the warm hospitality of the Kababaihan at Kabataan ng Maynganay Norte Program Inc., the Muscovado Farmers Association of Maynganay, the Sta. Maria Tourism Office and the Province of Ilocos Sur Tourism Office. And to FoodPrints on the Lifestyle Network for the trust.

Photographed by BlauEarth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2015

Faith in Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

I first met missionaries of the Redemptorists in Adams, Ilocos Norte, about 10 years ago. Last Saturday, I had the chance to celebrate with them the proclamation of the jubilee year of the 150th anniversary of receiving the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The Redemptorists are the custodians and missionaries of the icon first venerated by the public in 1499. The feast was celebrated worldwide, with The Holy Father Pope Francis granting a plenary indulgence (see story here). A mass and novena to venerate the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was held at the recently built St. Gerard Mission Center in barangay Bengcag in Laoag.

Known as the Holy Virgin of Baclaran, Our Mother of Perpetual Help is enshrined at the Baclaran Church, where droves of devotees congregate every Wednesday to hear mass and pray the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Among the pastoral missions of the Redemptorists of the Philippines are care for street children, indigenous peoples and the urban poor, and prison ministry.

Photographed by BlauEarth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2015

Bits of History from Dingras

Dingras Church

One among the country’s largest Catholic churches, the St. Joseph Parish Church of Dingras has already been restored from ruins. For a very long time the same spot was known as the Ruins of Dingras.

We walked past the church and found the statue and marker of the other famous, remarkable woman of Dingras, Enriqueta de Peralta, the other one being WII heroine and Girl Scouts of the Philippines founder Josefa Llanes Escoda. Both women were advocates of women’s right of suffrage.

Enriqueta de Peralta headed the Ilocos Norte Federation of Women’s Clubs which asked “to honor fabulous women who brought forth God’s children into this world” and declare the first Monday of December as Mother’s Day in the Philippines.

Dingras ChurchDingras ChurchDingras ChurchSt. Joseph Institute of DingrasEnriqueta de Peralta
Photographed by BlauEarth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2015

The first museum of natural history in Northern Luzon opens

Museum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos Norte

Visited the just opened Museum of Natural History of the Northwestern University Ecotourism Park and Botanic Gardens (NUEBG). On display at the museum is an impressive array of life forms curated by the one and only Michael Agbayani Calaramo. A living testament to the rich diversity of flora and fauna in the Ilocos provinces, the collection underscores the interdependence of species.

While touring the galleries, I could not help but brood on a growing local issue. Loosely defined laws and policies pertaining to environment and rapid development in the last year or so have become the biggest threats to local biodiversity and ecosystems. Worth significant mention is the recent loss of tens of thousands of life-supporting trees and destruction of natural habitats, in exchange for wind and solar farms, not to mention each company’s own set of transmission towers, and the imminent loss of another hundreds of evergreen trees (Casuarina equisetifolia) in Bimmanga, Currimao, for another solar plant project (read an ongoing petition on change.org here).

Museum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteNotable is Rafflesia manillana.Museum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos Norte

A member of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, NUEBG hosts 2,100 catalogued plant species and preserved plant specimens. The addition of the Museum of Natural History benefits biodiversity education.

Museum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMuseum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMuseum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMuseum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMs. Jo Quimpo of the the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc., an organization devoted to the conservation of indigenous Philippine plants and their natural habitats.Museum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMuseum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NortePicture 526Museum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMuseum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMuseum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMuseum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMuseum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos NorteMuseum of Natural History, NUEBG, Ilocos Norte

Northwestern University Ecotourism Park & Botanic Gardens Museum of Natural History (NUEBG-MNH)
Gov. Elizabeth Marcos Keon Rd, Payas-Samac, San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte

Photographed by Brandon Tan and  BlauEarth
© Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2015