SugarFest celebrates sugar cane at West Baton Rouge Museum

Get a taste of history

Rum isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind in a discussion of Louisiana products.

Especially in West Baton Rouge Parish, where sugar cane is king.

But rum will rule at the West Baton Rouge Museum’s 18th annual SugarFest on Sunday.

The museum won’t break with tradition by offering alcohol for sale in its food booths, but a rum tasting will be included in its segment on the history of sugar cane and the local rum distilling industries.

“The festival is designed to celebrate the sugar cane harvest while promoting the region’s sugar plantation history and culture,” says Jeannie Luckett, the museum’s education curator. “Whenever possible, the museum likes to highlight innovations in the sugar industry. Our festival is family-friendly, so we don’t sell alcohol, but we are featuring a sample tasting as part of this program. Of course, only adults will be able to do this.”

However, the program will be open to everyone who wants to learn about Louisiana’s rum connections. The museum has invited Trey Litel of Louisiana Spirits LLC to discuss the process of distilling the locally made Bayou Rum, along with the history surrounding it.

“The company’s passion for Louisiana’s history in sugar cane and rum distilling makes for a perfect fit at SugarFest,” Luckett says.

Also in the festival lineup is live music, including Dixieland jazz, Cajun-zydeco, bluegrass and traditional folk music, along with artisans demonstrating 19th-century skills, mule-driven cane grinding, syrup-making, living history activities in historic sugar plantation houses and opportunities to chew sugar cane samples.

And that’s not forgetting what possibly might be the festival’s most popular event, the Sweets Contest, where celebrity judges taste homemade goodies in the sugar-filled categories of cookies, cakes, cupcakes and candies.

Winners will be decided in each category, along with a grand prize winner. Those interested in entering can download an entry form at westbatonrougemuseum.com. All entries must be delivered to the museum between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Meanwhile, the museum also is accepting donations of homemade sweets for its annual Sweets Booth. Sweets donation information also can be found at the museum’s website.

“We’ll have more than 60 stops at this year’s festival, and that includes the museum’s galleries,” Luckett says. “And this year, we’ll have the LSU Museum of Art putting on a neighborhood arts program, and we’ll have an impromptu acoustic instrument jam session. So, you can bring your acoustic instrument and join in.”

But taking center stage will be the parallel histories of Louisiana’s sugar industry and rum-making. The two meshed in 1751 when the early Jesuits began growing sugar cane to use for making tafia, which was French for rum. Then came the Civil War, which took its toll on the local sugar plantation culture and likewise rum distilling.

Now the state is seeing a resurgence of rum-making with Litel’s Bayou Rum. Litel will discuss how he makes his product in a traditional copper pot using unrefined Louisiana cane sugar and molasses.

At the end of his program, adult visitors will be allowed a small sample tasting of his product.

And in a way, visitors will be tasting a little bit of history — Louisiana’s sugar cane history.