Congratulations to Cryssa Bazos on the release of her romantic thriller, Severed Knot.
The novel is set mostly on a 17th Century sugar plantation in Barbados. Here’s Cryssa to tell us more about what the manufacture of sugar involved.
We have a complicated history with sugar. For some it’s an indulgent weakness while others ruthlessly purge it from their diets. Since the seventeenth century, the demand for sugar has been responsible for expansion and colonization of the West Indies. But where does it come from and how is it produced? There is a science to convert liquid cane juice into sugar. In the seventeenth-century, all the equipment used for sugar production was referred to as the ingenio, which included the crushers and coppers, as well as the buildings where the sugar was processed.
Cutting and Crushing
Through experimentation, seventeenth-century planters found the best yields were achieved by harvesting cane between twelve to fifteen months. Field workers would cut the sugarcane by hand and pile the stalks vertically into ox-drawn carts. Once the wagon arrived at the crushing mill, they tipped back the cart to offload the stalks neatly where they could be quickly gathered and taken to the mill. It was important for the sugarcane to be crushed within hours of being cut in order to maximize the yields. The cane passed through the rollers in the crushing mill and the sap was separated and collected into a series of pipes that ran downward from the crushing house to the boiling house.
In the boiling house, the juice passed through a series of seven large coppers. As the juice went through a first boiling, it would then pass to a second copper and from there to a third, fourth and fifth. Through each pass, the impurities would be removed and the sap would grow more concentrated. The skimmings from the last three boiling coppers would be diverted to the still house and used to make rum. The last two coppers were used to cool the syrup. The entire process would take about six days, and the furnaces in the boiling house would be working non-stop, day and night.
After the thickened syrup was sufficiently cooled, the mixture would be transferred to clay containers that were stored in the curing house. A large plantation with a couple of hundred acres devoted to sugarcane would need a large enough curing house. Such a structure was designed to hold approximately eighteen-hundred tapered pots. The shape of the pots allowed the molasses to collect at the bottom of the vessel, making it easy to siphon off.
Brown muscovado sugar took approximately a month to fully cure, whereas refined white sugar needed four months and additional processing to draw out all the molasses. In order to draw out most of the molasses, a plaster of clay and water would be mixed and poured over the tops of the pots and left to harden. After the four-month curing period, the clay containers would be broken open revealing a sandwich of sugars: top and bottom were muscovado sugar while the middle would be white sugar.
Sugar was an extremely valuable commodity and the refined white sugar even more so. Around mid-seventeenth century, white sugar could fetch about 20 pence per pound in London. To put this in perspective, a labourer’s wages during the Stuart Age this time was approximately 12 pence. A labourer would have had to work a little more than a day and a half to afford one pound of sugar.
Sugar was truly a luxury item.
REVIEW OF SEVERED KNOT
I really enjoyed this tense and romantic thriller and highly recommend it if you want a page-turning read that will leave you enthralled and breathless. Set in the 17th Century after the King has been exiled, it tells the story of Iain and Mairead, one Scottish, the other Irish, when they are captured, shipped to Barbados, and taken into forced servitude. A bleak and brutal life awaits them on a sugar plantation, where people are expendable and treated as beasts of burden. The plot moves swiftly from one set piece to the next, as the newly-arrived exiles try to find their feet in a horrific new world of slavery and repression. Iain’s clan of supporters are all individuals, and Cryssa Bazos’s gritty dialogue adds to the building tension in this powder-keg of servants versus masters.
However, although the central lynchpin of the plot is the unfolding relationship between Mairead and Iain, this is not just a romance, the history is extremely well-researched, and the author gives us authentic detail about sugar manufacture, the war with the Dutch, the plight of the Irish under the Commonwealth, and much more besides. The writing is smooth, with plenty of historical references to keep the reader anchored in the past, and there are enough battles to make this a story to be savoured by those who like plenty of action. Mairead is a character you’ll love to root for – determined and stubborn, she never gives up on her quest for freedom and the man she loves.
A brilliant book, well worth your time and money.
More about Cryssa Bazos:
Cryssa Bazos is an award-winning historical fiction author and 17th-century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, was the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award (historical fiction), a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards (historical romance) and the RNA Joan Hessayon Award. Her second novel, Severed Knot, was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society 2018 New Novel Award.
About Severed Knot
Barbados 1652. In the aftermath of the English Civil War, the vanquished are uprooted and scattered to the ends of the earth.
When marauding English soldiers descend on Mairead O’Coneill’s family farm, she is sold into slavery. After surviving a harrowing voyage, the young Irish woman is auctioned off to a Barbados sugar plantation where she is thrust into a hostile world of depravation and heartbreak. Though stripped of her freedom, Mairead refuses to surrender her dignity.
Scottish prisoner of war Iain Johnstone has descended into hell. Under a blazing sun thousands of miles from home, he endures forced indentured labour in the unforgiving cane fields. As Iain plots his escape to save his men, his loyalties are tested by his yearning for Mairead and his desire to protect her.
With their future stolen, Mairead and Iain discover passion and freedom in each other’s arms. Until one fateful night, a dramatic chain of events turns them into fugitives.
Together they fight to survive; together they are determined to escape.