We have been eagerly awaiting for this sweet time of year to arrive - the season of miel. That's spanish for honey. What we consider honey in this part of Panama is actually "miel de caña," or honey of sugar cane. Sugar cane is a pretty common perennial grass that grows easily here and can be found on most people's property in the interior of Panama.
Harvesting sugar cane and hand processing it is how most families in our area get their honey for the year to use in their amazing cup of Panamanian coffee, hand squeezed chicha - fruit juice, duro's - popsicles, cocada which is a delicious treat of fresh coconut and miel, and their very own moonshine made from distilled cane juice. Whooeey! You didn't realize you were gonna get a Spanish lesson today did you? I do what I can to help.
So, we all know sugar is a widely traded commodity and part of our every day diet but, let's talk small scale Panamanian family production because it's pretty awesome to know how the families enjoy and honor their traditions and make it an annual celebration and get-together to provide their honey for the year.
The growing season is from June to January. It reaches about 13 ft (4 M) tall and about 2 in (5 cm) in diameter. It is then hand harvested using machetes to cut it down and remove the outer leaves leaving just the center stalk that is full of the sweet juicy nectar that will become a sweet creamy honey. The stalks are then taken in piles to be run through the Trapiche which is an old antique mill that squeezes out all the tasty sugar juice. It is powered by a horse, or several horses for hours on end. That has got to be the most bored a horse can get.
The juice is collected in a tank then carried to a huge cast iron pot that is slowly cooking over a fire for 24-36 hours. This is where the term "Stirring the pot" comes from I'm pretty sure. In this pot, the sugar water has to be carefully and constantly stirred to keep it from burning. This is very important because once the sugar is burned, the entire batch can be ruined.
Naturally, there are copious bottles of Seco - a strong liquor made from distilled sugar cane, being drunken around the fire, stories and lies being told, and an all around great family tradition that all are proud to be a part of.
Mind you, there is no sleeping involved to avoid burning the batch, and you definitely don't want to be that guy who didn't stir the pot.
So, if you visit us this time of year, you may get the the chance to cozy up to the fire with a local family and their best friends. Be sure to have with you, your best stories and be prepared to work hard too.
The end result is incredibly tasty and part of what makes life that much sweeter in Panama.
Your Friends in Morrillo,
Cari and Ryan Mackey
Owners and Hosts
Morrillo Beach Eco Resort