I’m continuing my journey to consider some of the pantry basics (beyond meat, eggs, dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables) that I will want to have available in the event of TEOTWAWKI . While I am working on a couple of major projects that are proving more difficult than expected, I will write on something this week that is ever so sweet and appealing. We’ve covered other pantry essentials, including baking soda, yeast, vinegar, salt and pepper (and other spices and herbs), and coffee to determine how we will provide them for our families in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. Some of these we will have to have stock piled, barter for, or find alternatives for until they are manufactured again, but others we can make or produce for ourselves. This week’s subject is sugar.
In a TEOTWAWKI scenario, when the electric grid goes down, fuel is not available for mass transportation, and ships are only sailing rather than running by engine, we will not be the beneficiaries of the massive amounts of sweeteners that are imported to or transported within our nation and across our continent to reach our local markets. The United States, almost exclusively the states of Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, and Texas, produces about 8.5 metric tons of sugar cane, which is less than 5% of the world’s production and significantly less than the nearly 11 metric tons of sugar cane consumed in the U.S. annually. Furthermore, if you’ll notice, only three state producing sugar cane are in the contiguous United States. It’s true that Mexico also produces sugar cane, but once again we have transportation issues to overcome in obtaining it, unless we happen to live in or very near Louisiana, Florida, or a small area of south Texas and have a source who is transporting it.
Additionally, even for those areas producing it, there is the matter of processing sugar cane. I assumed that sugar processing factories relied solely on electricity or natural gas to provide energy for their massive boilers and processing equipment, but I was pleasantly surprised to go to an informative website  that describes how sugar is made and processed and to read that many factories burn the pulp of the sugar cane as fuel for their factories, thus being fairly self-sufficient for power and using renewable energy. Of course, the website emphasizes the renewable energy and environmental benefits, but you and I recognize the benefit this offers at TEOTWAWKI. Our only issue will be in obtaining it, and that is a significant issue for which we need to look at alternatives, since our stocked sugar won’t last indefinitely.
We use sugar for baking, canning, making syrups and jams, and also for making treats that comfort us. I’m sure we’d be healthier if we overcame our addictions to it. I have a few friends who have done this, but I haven’t yet been motivated in this direction. We just limit the extra sweets, yet still enjoy them. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, I believe that sweets will have greater meaning when we are living in the stress of TEOTWAWKI, as these special treats will remind us of kinder times and reward our efforts as well as provide some much needed calories for the extra labor we will certainly face.
I am happy to report that there are quite a few sweet alternatives available to us, depending upon where we live, for producing sweeteners that we can use for baking and making treats.
Honey is an obvious sweetener that many of us already have and use regularly. It is available to most people in North America. It stores indefinitely, and bees can be raised most everywhere. My parents even raised bees deep inside a medium-sized city and my in-laws managed more than 100 hives in the country at one time. SurvivalBlog has some outstanding articles on raising bees! Go back and look through the archives and know that you, too, can have access to wholesome homegrown honey. Honey is wonderful in baked goods and can be used in canning, syrups, and treat-making, too. It requires some investment and time in getting things set up, but after you’ve learned the process it isn’t too difficult. On top of obtaining honey, you get bees wax and honeycomb, too! These are nice added bonuses that can be used for candles, healthcare products, and more!
In using honey for recipes, you just have to reduce the amount of honey used as compared to the sugar called for in the recipe by about 23%. (That’s about 3/4 cup plus 1 tsp of honey for every cup of sugar called for in your recipe.) I use honey regularly in my challah bread, which we enjoyed this very week, and in other baked goodies.
For those who live among maple trees, this is an obvious option. Tap into the tree, drain the sap, and boil it down. Again, look back at SurvivalBlog’s articles for details from those who have great experience in managing their maple trees, syrup production, and processing. Maple syrup can be canned but once opened requires refrigeration, so it has a limited life span; however, the trees are renewing the syrup each year. Maple syrup can certainly be used for baking, canning, syrups, and treat-making. When used for baking, use 2/3 cup of syrup and reduce other liquids by 3 Tbsp for every cup of sugar called for in the recipe.
On our family farm we briefly grew sugar beets when I was a child. I was not a beet fan at that time. To say I was not excited about growing hundreds of acres of beets was an understatement; however, I was pleasantly surprised with how good these beets tasted, even raw. They are packed with sweetness. Again, the website on sugar  shares about sugar beet processing too. Of course, this website tells about major factory-size production processes that are not what we’d do in our homestead kitchens. In our kitchens, we should scrub these beets thoroughly to remove dirt and then slice the beets thin, like potato chips, to expose the maximum surface. A mandolin slicer  would be useful. Boil/simmer the beet slices in water (using almost enough water to cover them but not quite), cover the pan with a lid, and cook until the beets are very tender, about one hour. Then, remove the beets to a press or if you don’t have a press to a cheesecloth-lined colander in which you press to expel the sweet liquid and capture it into a bowl. Return the expressed sugar water to the water in which the beets were boiled and continue simmering this sweet water (with the lid off) to reduce this sugar-water until it become thick, like a syrup or honey. (Feed the cooked turnip mush in some feed to your livestock and they’ll think it’s a treat.) Once your syrup has cooked down and become thick, pour the hot syrup into sterilized jars and cover. It may crystallize over several months, or you can just use the syrup in your cooking. Beet crystal sugar is equal in sweetness to cane sugar and can be used identically in recipes. I prefer cane sugar when it is available because I have difficulty caramelizing beet sugar in some recipes, but that is a rare use for sugar, so generally there is no difference. In the vast majority of recipes, I can use beet sugar just as easily as cane sugar. Many bags of sugar at the store are produced from beet sugar, unless they specifically state cane sugar.
One of the best things to remember about sugar beets is that they can be grown in the northern states, where sugar cane cannot. They only need about about 65 days from planting until harvest and can be started just four weeks after the last frost.
For several years, I have grown stevia plants and enjoyed the sweet flavor of these leaves. With our cold winters, of course, this plant is one that has been grown in pots indoors or as an annual outside. Still, it has provided a nice small amount of sweetness to beverages or even just as a morale booster as I picked a leaf and popped it onto my tongue while doing yard work. The leaves themselves cannot be directly crushed and used for directly for baking or canning. The sweetness is contained in the oils in the leaves. Once that sweetness dissipates on your tongue or in the liquid in which they’ve been placed, the leaves are bitter, so chewing them or grinding them is not desirable. However, a stevia tincture can be made at home. I’ve made many tinctures and infusions with fresh and dried herbs. It’s pretty simple really. With your homegrown stevia, just cut the fresh stevia leaves off the stem (as the stem is not as sweet as the leaves and can be more bitter), and place the leaves in a clean jar along with enough consumable alcohol (not isopropyl, rubbing alcohol) to just cover the loose leaves; I usually use vodka alcohol, because it has no flavor and has a good preserving alcohol content. Put a lid on your jar. (You may know how much I love Mason jars! This is just another use for them.) Then, shake your jar to stir the vodka around the leaves well. Do this shaking several times a day for two days. Then, strain the alcohol and leaves through a fine mesh colander and catch the sweet alcohol in a sauce pan. Put the sauce pan over low heat (not medium or high heat, as boiling this liquid will ruin it). Let it gently heat for 25-30 minutes to concentrate it and reduce some of the alcohol content. It will turn golden, and there may be some bits of stevia that become apparent. After heating, strain the liquid through a coffee filter and use a funnel to put it into a dropper or extract bottle. This tincture can be used in recipes with 1- 1 1/2 tsp of the tincture extract replacing 1 cup of sugar.
For sweetening sun tea, it is easy to just add a few stevia leaves into the jar and have a sweet tea in a few hours.
Fruit Juice Concentrate
Crushing fruit to produce juice and then cooking it down to a concentrate has long been used as a means for sweetening in canning, jelly making, and even baking. I often substitute apple sauce and apple juice concentrate for oil and some of the sugar in recipes. If you read the ingredients list of many canned fruits and juices, you will see pear juice listed high in the list because it has a great sweetening capability without adding a strong flavor, especially when cooked down to a syrup. Our household is not big fans of cooked pears by themselves, mainly because they have little flavor other than “sweet”, so when the pear trees produce we make pear juice concentrate and can in order to have this sweetener available to us. It works great!
If you have an apple press , you can use it to produce juice that is then cooked down on low heat for several hours to increase the sugar content in the concentrated liquid. If you don’t have a press, then you can add a small amount of water to cut or chopped apples or pears and steam them over medium heat. After they have softened, strain the contents of the pan (pressing them, too) through a colander. Return the juice and water to a pan and boil down further to concentrate the juice and remove the water. The sweetness of the fruit juice concentrate depends upon the sweetness of the original fruit and how much it is cooked down, so there is no substitution measurement for it in recipes calling for sugar. You will have to experiment on your own with your individual juice concentrate, by taste. However, this is a great option for us as well, if we have fruit trees. I hope you do!
Like sugar cane, sorghum cane is a hefty plant that must be cut, crushed, and its juice cooked and processed before it is useful. More than a year ago I came across a 2013 article of Mother Earth News called “Sweet Sorghum Revival: How to Grow Your Own Natural Sweetener ” and became fascinated with the idea of growing sorghum and making sorghum syrup. I’d never thought about this option before.
Making sorghum syrup or molasses, as it is sometimes called, is quite a process, but it can be done in the homestead. In fact, there are many families who grow and process their own sorghum using a variety of crushers and methods. Just take a look at youtube and you’ll find quite a few options for home-built sorghum crushers. Some are humorous, but others are impressive. Additionally, there are some elaborate and expensive pieces of factory-produced equipment for this production process as well, for those who are serious about making sorghum syrup in large quantity.
I’ve recently heard about a man living in our area who drives all the way to Kentucky every year to buy gallons of sorghum syrup, as he uses it exclusively as his sweetener because he prefers it over honey and sugar. When using sorghum syrup in baking, substitute 1 1/3 cup of sorghum syrup for each cup of sugar called for and reduce other liquid by 1/3 cup.
Well, hopefully I’ve given you a taste of some sweet ideas for sugar substitutes that will get you started in looking at what will work for you at your homestead in a TEOTWAWKI situation and still keep your sweet tooth satisfied. God is so good to give us many natural sources of sweetness! Explore some of these before TEOTWAWKI!
I wish you well, until we meet again on SurvivalBlog!