This Sunday’s SugarFest at the West Baton Rouge Museum will not only celebrate sugar and many of the products that can be made of it, but will also offer a glimpse into life in south Louisiana from over 200 years ago.
Held on the beautiful six-acre tract of land the museum occupies on North Jefferson in Port Allen, the daylong festival features a multitude of displays, demonstrations, live music and more among the many historical buildings scattered around the property.
The festivities will begin at 11 a.m. and the festival is free and open to the public and the museum encourages the public, no matter their age, to come enjoy the fun.
The museum’s director of programs, Jeannie Luckett, says SugarFest truly has something to interest everyone and hands-on demonstrations anyone can enjoy.
“There are three things that are the primary attractions to the festival,” she said. “There’s the folklife demonstrations, the amazing array of live music—most of it indigenous to Louisiana—and the sugary treats, because it is after all SugarFest.”
“The festival is a sweet celebration of the sugar cane harvest, appropriate because sugar cane is West Baton Rouge’s biggest cash crop,” Luckett continued.
Voted one of the top 20 events in the Southeast, there will be demonstrations about the old-fashioned ways sugar was processed when it was first introduced to the parish in the late 1770s.
Visitors will be able to see cane-cutting and grinding, done by hand the way it was back in the early days, then visitors will get to see the cane syrup boiling process, some of the first steps of turning cut cane into raw sugar.
While the processes have all been dramatically modernized, raw sugar is still produced the same way. Inside the museum is a permanent 22-foot model of an old sugar mill will descriptions of what was done with the cane or its syrup at each one, so people will be able to understand the entire process.
Visitors will get to taste the juice squeezed from the cane, compliments of Alma Plantation, and there will be sugar-based products in abundance to sample and purchase.
Other demonstrations showing the way of life nearly 200 years ago include blacksmithing, praline making, woodworking with antique tools, spinning and weaving and the making of bousillage, the material usually made of mud and moss used to fill the gaps in between the timber of the old Acadian style homes.
While many of the activities at SugarFest may seem to be adult oriented, there are lots of things designed just for children to enjoy.
There will be train rides, wagon rides and a petting zoo and children and adults alike will surely enjoy the old school cakewalks and the wealth of sugary treats created by the cooking contest.
“The entire museum campus is filled with all kinds of kids activities, inside and outside,” Luckett said. “We have old-fashioned chores, so they can scrub clothes on a washboard, they can play vintage games and they can visit the petting zoo that’s provided by LSU’s Block and Bridal Club.”
“And special for this year, because Sesame Street turns 50 this year, thanks to a rural community grant awarded to Louisiana Public Broadcasting which chose us to be their rural community partner, children will be able to enjoy a visit from the walk-around Cookie Monster,” she continued.
Cookie Monster will be serving as a celebrity judge for the festival sweets contest along with judges from Louisiana Public Broadcasting, WRKF and The Advocate.
“We invite everyone to break our their favorite sweets recipe—cookies, cakes, pralines and pies,” Luckett said, adding the only restriction to the contest is that they have to contain sugar and they cannot require refrigeration or heating.
“It’s great,” she said. “It’s so much fun.”
SugarFest has its origins in 1995, Luckett said, and “the community responded to it so well it was decided by the power that be to make it an annual event.”
There is arguably no place better to hold a festival dedicated to sugar than the West Baton Rouge Museum.
“I love that our museum is in the heart of the city of Port Allen and two blocks away are sugar cane fields,” Luckett said.