The Sugar King
Pardon our dust.
This beautiful strawberry pavlova could tell the story of three key crops in Santa Cruz, CA: sugar beets, eggs, and strawberries of course! Today, we will look more closely at that dusting of sugar.
Santa Cruz county has seen wheat and potato fields yield to sugar beets, apple orchards, and now berry hoops. Thanks to a larger-than-life entrepreneur, sugar beets turned Santa Cruz into a nationally recognized hub of food production in the late 1800s. The sugar beet is an unromantic crop—it looks a bit like a turnip and it is totally inedible unless it is heavily processed.
The rise of sugar beet production locally was orchestrated by one of the Captains of Industry, Claus Spreckles, The Sugar King.
Stay tuned for the rest of the Santa Cruz sugar story tomorrow! Also this story will soon be available as part of the @scheritagefood project's book! It will be available through the @santacruzmah
In the late-1800s, sugar crops were making their debut on the national (US) agricultural scene, due to trade pressures for a domestic source. At the time, most sugar consumed in America was coming from the tropics and Cuba. This reliance on foreign sources was cause for concern. And so some enterprising businessmen decided to inspire a domestic sugar supply and to build the factories that would process it.
Claus Spreckels was among them. He successfully invested in the Albany Brewery, a steam beer brewery in San Francisco, then he turned his attention to sugar production. He incorporated three sugar-refining companies before his history intersects with ours. This accumulation of wealth took the Spreckels family to the top of the social circles in San Francisco. Claus’s son, Adolph, married socialite Alma de Bretteville. In homage to the source of her extravagant lifestyle, she called him her “sugar daddy.”
And yet, the same hubris that drove his successes may have cost him his business in Hawaii. At a card game with King Kalākaua of Hawaii, Spreckels said his hand of three Kings was the winning hand, because he himself was the fourth King—the Sugar King. This arrogance may have led to a falling out with Kalakaua, and it motivated him to look for sugar that could be grown in the continental United States. He found the answer to be Santa Cruz, because he needed lime for the processing ( Limestone Quarries were already in the county) and proximity to a big city (San Francisco). Today there is a town named Spreckles and the sugar plant is still in use. .