Sugar: Then and Now

When I’m reading through these old canning books, I’m surprised at how much we do that is the same, but also at the things that are different.

I learned something new the other day — all about loaf sugar.  Did you know that a long time ago sugar had to be clarified to be used in canning?  And the clarified sugar was called loaf sugar?  And that it was purchased or made into hard cones?  And that you needed a sugar nip to break off the pieces of sugar?  Isn’t it great to learn about something new?  (Even if probably never in our life we are going to do anything with the knowledge?)

Here’s a page from Mrs. Frazer’s book that tells how to clarify sugar (make sure to substitute an “s” for the long s which looks like an “f”):

The sugar they started with was actually raw sugar, the result of boiling sugar cane juice in up to seven copper kettles.  Into the first kettle went cane juice that was heated with lime until impurities could be skimmed from the surface.

The results went into the next kettle and the process repeated, with each kettle getting smaller as the liquid evaporated, and each fire getting hotter. In the last kettle, the cane juice became syrup.

The syrup was cooled in a trough where some of the resulting molasses crystalized and the sticky molasses/crystal result was called raw sugar.

So when purified sugar was needed, the purified loaf sugar could be purchased, or produced at home from raw sugar by the “recipe” above.

Once clarified, the sugar syrup would be poured into a cone-shaped mold made of wood or pottery, cooled until solid, and the resulting cone could be as large as 14 inches in diameter at the base and up to a couple feet high, and weigh 30 pounds. The loaf sugar would be wrapped in blue paper, to make the sugar look whiter. The blue paper could be used to dye small pieces of cloth a medium blue color once the sugar was gone.

While the above sugar was clarified with egg white, other options were ox blood or even charcoal or some combination of these.  I think I prefer charcoal over the egg white, and ox blood least of all.  Here’s a picture of loaf sugar with sugar nips:

Apparently you could use the nips or scrape the sugar with a knife as in this picture from

If you’re feeling nostalgic and you want to buy some loaf sugar, you can order it from and it looks like this:

That’s a lot of work going into one product just so we can have a sweeter life . . .

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1 comment to Sugar: Then and Now

  • I have never heard of sugar cones before. I’m glad we don’t have to work that hard anymore 🙂 You have a wonderfully informative blog.

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