Pure white sugar was expensive and coveted in the 18th century. Most sugar in North America was imported from the West Indies. To produce sugar, raw sugar cane was mixed with lime water and heated in a big kettle. When the mixture became warm large quantities of bullock’s blood (blood from a steer) was added. The blood congealed around impurities floating on the top and could be skimmed off. This process was repeated several times. As the refined mixture cooled, it crystalized and was poured into cone-shaped molds with a paper plug in the bottom. The plug would be removed to allow any remaining liquid to drain out. This process produced a light-colored sugar of lesser quality that was sold in large two-foot-high cones.
To produce pure white sugar, white clay slip was then poured into the large end of the cone two or three times to percolate down and filter out any remaining molasses. The finest, most expensive sugar cones were 5 inches tall wrapped in blue indigo paper that showcased the pure white of the sugar cone. The blue paper was recycled as a source of dye for yarn or cloth. The finest sugar contained a fair amount of clay.
Sugar nippers were used to cut small chunks of sugar from the cone. Large sugar cones often had to be cut with a hammer and chisel. In Western Pennsylvania sugar was a luxury and remained expensive and scarce until after 1840. For early settlers, honey and maple syrup were the most commonly used sweeteners. The sugar nippers were donated to from the estate of Dr. Joseph Templeton.
Linda Zelch is a volunteer for the Washington County Historical Society and a member of the antiquities committee.