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From Farm to Table

Sweets and Treats / Sugar and Spice
Tuareg people<br/> Morocco<br/> <em>Sugar Hammer</em>, 20th century<br/> Silver<br/> Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
  Tuareg people
Sugar Hammer, 20th century
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund


What words describe this utensil?

This ornate object is a sugar hammer, used for chipping pieces off a cone-shaped sugar loaf. Rock-hard sugar loaves are popular in Morocco, where tea enthusiasts accept no substitute for sweetening their mint tea. To break off pieces of sugar, you simply aim the blade at the loaf and take a whack! Though sugar hammers have gone out of fashion in America and Europe, they remain a useful, elegant utensil in Moroccan tea culture.

Now almost unique to Morocco, sugar loaves were once the only way sugar was sold. Granulated or cubed sugar is a fairly recent convenience. Sugar comes from the sweet sap of sugarcane, a thick, stalky grass. To make the loaves, harvested stalks are crushed to release their sap. The sap is boiled and then poured into cone-shaped clay or iron molds and left to dry for a few days. A small hole at the tip of the mold allows liquid (molasses) and any impurities to drain out as the sugar inside crystallizes into a solid cone.

This sugar hammer combines design with function. Moroccan metalwork tends to be highly decorative. It often features repeating geometric patterns, as seen on the gently curved blade of this hammer, which is also embellished with studs. The handle has a convenient loop at the end for storage. This practical tool is a beautiful accessory for a spot of tea.

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1. The Maya regularly enjoyed a chocolate drink made of ground cacao beans, water, cornmeal, chilies, and honey. They poured the mixture back and forth, until it got frothy, and then drank it out of a vessel like this one. Maya people, Guatemala, Chocolate Pot, about 750, ceramic, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Harold and Rada Fredrikson
2. Spanish colonists in the New World modified the chocolate drink of the Maya to suit European tastes. By the 17th century, chocolate was a popular drink in Europe, along with coffee and tea. Lucien Bonvallet, French, 1861–1919, Chocolatière (Chocolate Pot), about 1900, silver and gold vermeil (pot), wood and ivory (stirrer), Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Modernism Collection, gift of Norwest Bank Minnesota
3. Salt is important in cuisines throughout the world, for preserving food and adding flavor. In Europe and America, before salt shakers became popular, salt was placed on the table in saltcellars, from which people could take a pinch. England, Master Salt, 1675, tin-glazed earthenware, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Mr. and Mrs. George R. Steiner


May 2013