History of Sugar -- short essay
"The Bee, the Reed, the Root"
by Ray Burke
(about honey, sugarcane, sugar beets)
Only this paragraph is specifically about sugar in the 17th century:
"By the year 1600, sugar production in the subtropical and tropical Americas had become the world's largest and most lucrative industry. The 'sugar islands' of the West Indies brought great wealth to England and France. Queen Elizabeth displayed her wealth by putting a sugar bowl on her table and using sugar as an everyday food and seasoning. Great Britain took a commanding position in the sugar trade, and consumption of tea in the English diet increased tremendously with the use of sugar."
Sugarcane wasn't cultivated in Barbados until 1700. Sugar wasn't successfully extracted from beets until about 1800 in Germany.
24 Mar 2003, 2:22 a.m. - Warren Keith Wright
In Pepys's day, refined sugar was molded into firm cone-shaped masses called sugar loaves---a jumbo version of today's sugar cube, it would seem, which one chipped from ad lib. (See 23 March 1659/60 where he receives one as a gift upon going to sea.)
25 Mar 2003, 2:01 p.m. - Warren Keith Wright
"There were several grades of sugar, from the cones or 'loaves' which had to be broken up, pounded in a mortar and 'searced'" [sieved, before being used to bake with], "to the 'double refined' sugar, of the consistency of coarse salt, which would still have to be pounded and searced before use."
---Liza Picard's "Restoration London," p. 155 ("Recipes"); this book makes an excellent companion to the Companion.
25 Mar 2003, 8:53 p.m. - Susanna
Sugar from Barbados
Pepys' sugar almost certainly came from Barbados.
26 Mar 2003, 1:12 a.m. - David Quidnunc
Correction -- Sugar in Barbados
As Susanna says, Barbados did have sugarcane in Pepys's day. In my annotation above ("History of Sugar ...") I misread a sentence in Burke's essay on the website I linked to. Here's the relevant passage:
"In 1700, after sugarcane was introduced, although the population was then only about 30,000, there were some 1,300 sugarcane plantations and nearly 500 factories driven either by windmills or by animals. Barbados was soon producing about 8,000 tons a year."
1 Nov 2016, 2:46 a.m. - San Diego Sarah
Source of sugar: Spain took the rights to the New World by Papal Bull in 1493.
In 1540 Jamaica was given to the Columbus family as a personal estate, but the island never flourished. Admiral Penn invaded in 1655 as a consolation for failing the Hispaniola raid. According to Ollard's Biography of Henry Morgan, Jamaican planters did not turn to sugar in a large way until 1664.
Barbados was ignored by the Spaniard, so the English colonized it circa 1625. The first planters concentrated on tobacco, ginger and indigo, then turned to sugar, and by 1650 the sugar crop was valued at 3 million pounds.
In 1663 Pepys gives a box of sugar to Mrs. Hunt. After all, you couldn't have your giant sugar cube unprotected ... but I doubt commercial packaging had arrived yet.
29 Nov 2017, 6:34 p.m. - San Diego Sarah
Aldgate was once the heart of London’s sugar-baking industry and, from the mid-17th century onwards, Germans brought their expertise to this volatile and dangerous trade, which required heating vast pans of sugar with an alarming tendency to combust, or even explode.
The hot and sticky atmosphere meant sugar-bakers worked naked, thus avoiding getting their clothes stuck to their bodies and, therefore avoiding the epilatory qualities of sugar.
As an interesting side note, as with other immigrant communities, there was discord over whether English or the language of the homeland should be spoken in their church and, by implication, whether integration or separatism was preferable – this controversy led to this community rioting in Aldgate on December 3, 1767.
From http://spitalfieldslife.com/2017/11/29/st-georg... which has lovely pictures of the 18th century German Lutheran church
30 May 2022, 6:26 p.m. - San Diego Sarah
The book "A Dark History of Sugar" delves into our evolutionary history to explain why sugar is so loved, yet is the root cause of so many bad things.
Europe’s colonial past and Britain’s Empire were founded on and fueled by sugar, as was the United States – and they all relied upon slave labor to catalyze it.
"A Dark History of Sugar" focuses upon the role of the slave trade in sugar production and looks beyond it to how the exploitation of the workers didn’t end with emancipation. It reveals the sickly truth behind the detrimental impact of sugar’s meteoric popularity on the environment and our health. Advertising companies may peddle their sugar-laden wares to children with fun cartoon characters, but the reality is not so sweet.
"A Dark History of Sugar" delves into our long relationship with this sweetest and most ancient of commodities. The book examines the impact of the sugar trade on the economies of Britain and the rest of the world, as well as its influence on health and cultural and social trends over the centuries.
Renowned food historian Neil Buttery takes a look at some of the lesser-known elements of the history of sugar, delving into the murky and mysterious aspects of its phenomenal rise from the first cultivation of the sugar cane plant in Papua New Guinea in 8,000 BCE to becoming an integral part of the cultural fabric of life in Britain and the rest of the West – at whatever cost. The dark history of sugar is one of exploitation: of slaves and workers, of the environment and of the consumer. Wars have been fought over it and sugar is responsible for what is potentially to be the planet’s greatest health crisis.
And yet we cannot get enough of it, for sugar and sweetness has cast its spell over us all; it is comfort and we reminisce fondly about the sweets, cakes, puddings and fizzy drinks of our childhoods with dewy-eyed nostalgia.
To be sweet means to be good, to be innocent; but in this book Neil Buttery argues that sugar is nothing of the sort. Indeed, sugar is guilty of some of the worst crimes against humanity and the planet.
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.