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.
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.
Trying to form balicucha, in fact the entire process of creating these sugarcane candies, is something I never imagined learning.
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.
Pure sugarcane juice is cooked until it caramelizes.
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.
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.
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