The Sweet Life: Sugar Alternatives for Your Homesteading Needs

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If you have a sweet tooth, like me, you may also quake in fear of the day when you can no longer purchase sugar at the store. What’s a dessert lover to do if the day ever comes when your sugar canister has run dry?

Never fear – there are many alternatives to white sugar that you can produce on your own homestead. Learning how to cultivate these alternative sweeteners can provide you with not only a product that sates your own family’s cravings, but a highly valued barter item.

Honey: Beekeeping is a hobby you can start now. Even a small urban lot can provide the nominal amount of space required for a hive (Check your local regulations first – this is not legal in every municipality.). Get advice from other local beekeepers and do some research first. You want to be sure your area has enough flowers to keep your bees in pollen! Beekeeping is not terribly expensive. You will need:

  • Bees and a hive (can be ordered by mail)
  • A smoker
  • Protective clothing
  • Extraction equipment

Honey has many nutritional and medicinal benefits as well. It has wound healing properties, is antibacterial and is an excellent cough remedy.

Stevia: Stevia is a natural, low-calorie sweetener that has a slight “black licorice” flavor.

This plant is native to South America. The shrub likes well drained, sandy soil and a warmer climate, but you can also cultivate stevia plants indoors. Harvest all of the leaves from the plant and dry them in full sun for about 12 hours or place the plants on a piece of newspaper in an area with good air circulation. Once the leaves are thoroughly dried, they can then be ground into a powder using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. A home dehydrator can also be used, although sun drying is the preferred method. This produces a flavor far sweeter than sugar (30 times sweeter, in fact), so adjust your recipes to use smaller amounts. A good rule of thumb is to use 1 heaping tablespoon for every one cup of sugar in terms of the level of sweetness.

You can also make your own stevia simple syrup by adding a cup of warm water to 1/4 cup of fresh, finely-crushed stevia leaves. This mixture should set for 24 hours and then be refrigerated. It works perfectly for sweetening beverages.

Maple Syrup: If you happen to live in an area where you are blessed with maple trees, you have a delicious natural sweetener just waiting for you to harvest and process it.

There is only one ingredient in maple syrup, and that is the sap from a maple tree. As temperatures begin to warm up in the spring, the sap begins running. A small hole, just an inch and a half deep, is drilled in the tree and a fitting called a “spile” is inserted and tapped into the hole. From the spile, the sap is directed into a collection bucket. Once the sap is collected it must be processed immediately to prevent spoilage.

It takes a lot of sap to make maple syrup. The ratio is about 10 gallons of sap to make 1 quart of syrup.

To process your maple sap, you must boil it to evaporate the water that it contains. This can take many hours. Because of all the steam that is produced, most people boil the sap outdoors. Then the syrup must be carefully filtered, using a coffee filter.

The website Tap My Trees goes into minute detail with instructions for making your own maple syrup at home, without a lot of fancy equipment. Click here for more information.

Sorghum: A long-time cash crop in the South, most sorghum produced now is turned into feed for livestock.

Sorghum is a very useful crop that can be used for much more than making syrup. Sorghum seeds can be removed from the head and treated much like wheat, ground and used as a grain (If you are on a gluten-free diet, sorghum is safe for you.).

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Tess Pennington joined the Dallas chapter of the American Red Cross in 1999 Tess worked as an Armed Forces Emergency Services Center specialist and is well versed in emergency and disaster management and response. You can follow her regular updates on Preparedness, Homesteading, and a host of other topics at ReadyNutrition.com.

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