Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sugar Beets to Molasses - Continued

Brown sugar on a spoon. Yum! 
       This post is a followup for Sugar Beets to Molasses - Homestead Style that I published January 10th. If you haven't read that, you may wish to do so before continuing here.       Compared to homegrown, home-processed molasses, the store-bought stuff is tasteless. Like me, you have probably observed this regarding most everything homemade. Much of the syrup resulting from cooking my sugar beets has gone to topping pancakes. I wouldn't even consider store-bought molasses for this, the taste is so different. I've used both syrup and the brown sugar in baking with good results. The sugar remains much moister than commercial, but the taste is superior.
        This was an interesting experiment, but time-consuming for the amount of finished product, and a few weeks ago I became concerned about the possibility of loosing some of that product due to molding. I reasoned that since jelly is full of sugar and molds, molasses could do the same. I considered (briefly) canning some of the syrup. I may consider this again next year with another crop of sugar beets. I'm sure this would stop mold but it would probably reverse the crystallization just like heating honey will. On the other hand, my instructions say that further cooking will speed crystallization. Since I had much more molasses at that point than brown sugar, I opted to try cooking some down to see what happened.
Sugar beet syrup resembling chocolate pudding,
at a full rolling boil.
       In the previous post about transforming homegrown sugar beets, I warned about the danger of burning the syrup once the full rolling boil stage was reached. That danger is more real than I imagined.
       With about two inches of syrup in the bottom of my four quart dutch oven, I brought the syrup to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. At full rolling boil, this small amount had to be watched to be sure it didn't spill over the sides. I lowered the heat and continued to cook and stir until syrup slowed to a crawl when dripping off a wooden spoon held above the pot for a few moments. Having no idea how much"further cooking" was needed to speed crystallization, when it resembled chocolate pudding, I poured most of the syrup into a wide-mouthed jar, leaving maybe a half inch of syrup in the pan. I turned my back for a moment to make a note for this post. It was only a for a moment! But by the time I looked again, the syrup had turned black. I stirred it for a few minutes, hoping it wasn't as badly burned as it looked, but since it resembled tar in color and viscosity I had to admit that it was ruined.
To be or not to be (used, that is).  The larger jar holds the
"pudding." The smaller is cleanup water.
       Not one of my finest moments.
       But this was an experiment and I learned that one is better off being patient with the crystallization process. After nearly two months the process is still on-going. Based on this experience, I do not recommend cooking beyond the full rolling boil stage. Even the syrup I cooked to the pudding stage has a slight burned taste. I think it's salvageable, but will wait a while to see if it actually crystallizes. After three weeks, there is no sign of this, nor is there any molasses in this batch. It's too thick to pour and too viscous to even spoon out of the jar.
       Cleaning the pot and utensils is easy with plain hot water, which, considering the value of every teaspoon of this stuff, you may want to save for sweetening drinks or even for baking. Hot water on a cloth works for cleaning the stove and other surfaces too. As when working with any boiling substance, especially ones containing a high sugar content, use caution. Burns from this sort of thing can be particularly nasty.
      Is this worth all the effort? Only you can answer that, but keep in mind that 95% of all sugar beets planted in the USA are genetically modified. If you want to be sure you are using a non-GM product, you may have to find heirloom seeds, grow them yourself, and process your own molasses and brown sugar.
       If you think this blog is interesting and may be of help to you, please leave a comment to make me feel a little better about burning my syrup!


  1. Your blog is one I read regularly and go back to often as a resource as I am learning everything I can as my husband and I are headed towards owning our own land and actually trying to live the country life. Thank you for sharing your successes and failures with us. It really does help.

    1. You have no idea (or do you?) how encouraging comments like yours are. I can't know if my efforts are helping anyone if no one gives me feedback. So thank you for the kind word!