A Cone Of Sugar

Sugar bakers they were called, the entrepreneurs whom from 1593 in Amsterdam used earthenware funnels to refine cane syrup to the precious white granulated sugar. In their sugar bakeries thousands funnels were lined up, filled with warm syrup, to be placed in special syrup jars to cool slowly.

Sugar cone funnel
Sugar cone funnel

Even before the Christian era, people in India were able to refine the sweet juice of sugar cane into sugar. Through the Middle East this knowledge spread across the Mediterranean where Venice for a long time was the center of the sugar trade and production. In the 15th century the Spanish and Portuguese trade worked on a further spread of the cane production. The story goes that Columbus first took with him cane cuttings on his journey to the New World and in effect has been the source of the vast sugarcane plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. On these plantations the harvested cane pieces were chopped and boiled and the sweet syrup was shipped in barrels to Europe.

In the sugar bakeries the syrup was further concentrated by heating it in open pans. If the syrup was thick enough, it was poured into funnels. While the contents cooled and crystallized a small hole in the spout let excess syrup slowly settle into the syrup pot below. What remained in the funnel was a cone of sugar. If the cones were sufficiently dried, they were taken from the hoppers, wrapped in fancy blue paper and sold as sugar bread. At home they used special pliers to cut the required sugar of the cone.

Print of a sugar refiner in 1793
Print of a sugar refiner in 1793

In the 16th century Antwerp was the sugar city of Northwest Europe. Because the Spanish blockade of the Scheldt River in 1585, the sugar trade shifted to the north, where merchants from Amsterdam enthusiastically invested in this lucrative market. In 1593 the first confectionery (sugar bakers) was established here, in the middle of the 17th century there were 66 in operation. Each confectioner needed many thousands of these sugar funnels. Therefore, the production of this type of pottery took a flight as equally in size as that of the sugar itself.

In the 17th century four potteries in Amsterdam were specialized in making funnels and syrup pots, three in the center of town and one at Overtoom, just outside the city walls, at the height of nowadays Schoolstraat. The pottery was in business until 1879 at Overtoom. Many hundreds of thousands of these earthenware funnels must have been made here. Yet during archaeological research in Amsterdam so far only three complete copies have been found. The open shape and the thin wall of the sugar-loaf shapes have proven very vulnerable. On the former site of the pottery at Overtoom an intact specimen was found in a waste pit in 2012.

4 thoughts on “A Cone Of Sugar

    1. That’s the way it happened in the old days, I’ve never seen them too. Due to industrialisation and new techniques you buy sugar in a bag, or as cubes in a box. Most sugar is made from beets in northern Europe.

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