Wednesday, January 21, 2009

There was a time …….

Kabong (or enau) palm tree.

There was a time when Lipat Kajang was famous for its ‘sugar’, in the old days sugar from sugar cane and later on by early 1940s (or even before that maybe) to early 1950 ‘gula kabong’ was the in-thing.

About the sugar from sugar cane, I was only told about this by one of my late uncles. He mentioned that on the riverside they used to grow sugar canes plants, acres and acres of them. And from these sugar canes plants they used to squeezed the sap (sugar cane juice) and boil them over to make them into thick sugary sweet brownish liquid. And the sugar was in demand as at that time as there was no such a thing as white sugar yet (even if there was the villagers could not get hold of them, the price probably was beyond their reach. (just guessing). How did they squeezed the sugar cane juice from the sugar cane plant stalk? It seemed that they used the brute strength of the buffaloes (kerbaus), by some sort of a wheeled mechanical mean. It was before my time and I did not witness how they did it so I cannot really describe the process. But I can guess how they turn the fresh sugar cane juice into syrup. The must have boiled it in a big wok (“kawah” in Malay, the ones with no ears and ‘kancah’ the ones with ears), the size of the wok in those days may be 1 meter diameter or more. The resultant sugar may be in thick liquid form or in treacle form.

On this ‘gula kabong’ thing, I have witnessed how they produced it. My grandfather was one of those whose livelihood, other than a few other sources, depended on producing this ‘gula kabong’. There were many other people in those days who did this ‘gula kabong’ business in the kampong. There was really not much competition though as in those days there was always a high demand for this ‘gula kabong’. In the kampong in those days there were many ‘anau’ tree (or ‘kabong’ they called it in the kampong). These ‘anau’ trees were/are actually a species of the palm tree which grows wild. They grew almost anywhere in our fertile soil in the kampong, depending on where animals bring the palm seeds to. The fruit are about apple sized (not apple shaped though) edible to animals when ripe, animals such as squirrels and monkeys or some big bird and wild pigs (boar). Pigs eat the fruits when they fall down (when ripe), the kampong folks call such fruit that has fallen as ‘beluluk’. The fruit turns orangey when ripe (with edible not so soft flesh outside) from green when unripe. The green unripe fruits some time though is collected by men and boiled to get the softer inner seeds to make into very tasty sweet eaten with this ‘nisan kabong’ (then) but now they may be even eaten with ice cream. “Nisan kabong” is similar to maple syrup in texture and taste.

Why the trees are not cultivated? Maybe it takes too long to grow and be productive, or maybe its when producing it’s a labour intensive and return on investments is low. Just guessing, but no one has ever cultivated ‘anau’ trees yet. Actually the tree looks very green and tidy when young but when it grows to a certain age it becomes a bit untidy and furry. From the young ‘anau’ tree, the tree can be cut down and the ‘umbut’ taken. ‘Umbut’ the softer part of the plant just below the young palm leaves. It’s a tasty part of the plant which can either be eaten raw or make delicious vegetable dish when cooked in coconut milk. The old tree when cut down can be split open, reveals a soft core which can be cut into pieces and used as chicken feed.

When the tree matures, say at a height of about 20 feet, it produces young stalk where the flowers should come out, and later the stalk bears fruits which I have briefly described above. The young stalk may be just a few feet long but when left to fruits they curve down due to the weight of the fruits and may hang down to as long as about 5 feet. During flowering the stalk with many small flowers attract a lot of insects due to the flowers having very sweet nectar, My grandfather then had a piece of land where many such ‘anau’ trees grew. He inspected each tree and the ones he found suitable, he would climb to the stalk by using long node, thick set, strong bamboo which was plentiful then growing by the banks of the Pahang River. This ‘step ladder’ (‘sigai’ they called it) was leaned on every tree he found suitable. He did not cut the stalk straight away, but he used special thick stick to knock on the stalk for a couple of days. Why? I still do not know. Probably to soften the outer layer of the stalk or to make the stalk produce more juice (sap). Probably massaging the stalk concerned. Then when he decided that it was ready he will use a very sharp knife to cut just about the middle of the stalk, knocking it again a couple of time to induce the sweet sap (juice) and when the juice flowed out enough he would use a big bamboo node segment which he specially cut and formed for the purpose of collecting the sap overnight (Much like they collect toddy from coconut tree today). The next morning he would collect all the specially made contained for the juice from all his trees. We children used to be allowed to drink the sap (juice). I remember that it was very sweet. Then all the sap will be put in a big wok (described above), and boil using special wood called ‘cenderai’ which were found quite plentiful in the kmpong. ‘Cenderai’ wood is not a hard wood but burn very well once ignited. And the wood leaves a very nice woody smoky aroma.. When the juice thickens into syrup after being boiled for some hours, these are poured into cleaned dried bottle ready for marketing. At this stage the thick cooked juice is called ‘nisan kabong’. However they also made ‘gula kabong’, by boiling the free flowing syrup a bit longer until it became almost treacally, then the treacle is poured into specially made containers of normally rounded shape of diameter say 6 inches or about, height about 2 - 3 inches, let set overnight. When set and hardened, these can either be take out of the container or left inside the container and marketed.

To make ‘nisan kabong’ or ‘gula kabong’ would need special skills of climbing, getting the sap (palm stalk juice), boiling it over the right period and when making hardened sugar (‘gula kabong’) to know when the treacle would set and to ensure that the set sugar is kept properly without getting wet..

Nowadays not many people go into that business anymore, the ‘anau’ trees are difficult to find, so they usually now make ‘gula melaka’ from coconut tree stalk juice which are treated in the same way to get to the ‘gula melaka’ stage. But ‘gula melaka’ is not as tasty as ‘gula kabong’ (its an acquired taste), and if one makes sweet using ‘gula melaka’ its not a crunchy as ‘gula kabong’. One can still get ‘gula kabong’ in some rural places but the price can be quite expensive.

But Lipat Kajang has in its history been famous for sugar making. People from far and near used to come to Lipat Kajang just to buy the Lipat Kajang 'gula kabong'.

Lipat Kajang people (or decendents) are encouraged to participate& contribute (Orang Lipat Kajang, atau keturunan, di jemput memberi sumbangan idea)

1 comment:

  1. my late father was another folk who during his younger energetic days climbed so many pokok kabung (enau) using the "sigai" he made himself, collect the sap (juice) and made "nisan kabung" or even "gula kabung" for self consumption, come in very handy during fasting month and Hari Raya when this "gula kabung" is needed to make various types of delicacies (kuih kuih)