Sugar Beets are GO!

My husband is always going on about Thunderbirds are GO! I have no idea what he is on about, but it sounds good!  So I have borrowed the tagline.  🙂

282 Sugar Beets are nearly ready to pick

I  mentioned on the “Garden to Kitchen – with Suz” Facebook page yesterday, that my current challenge was cooking with Sugar Beets, or more precisely, making some form of useable sugar with Sugar Beets. And that I would post my results following the trials. So here is what happened!

A few months ago now, (120 days to be precise), I planted some Sugar Beets from Kings Seeds, see the link below: http://www.kingsseeds.co.nz/shop/Vegetables/Alpha+Search+for+Vegetables/Veges+A+to+B/Sugar+Beet-7087.html

To save valuable ground space, I put the seeds into a food grade black plastic fish bin with a mix of soil and compost. Now if you know me at all, you will know I HATE plastic – with a vengeance. I try to never use it ever, if I can possibly help it. But, I do have some of these bins lying around still, and I do find them good for conducting crop trials and for when I am challenged for ground room – as I was when I put these seeds in. So for now, I have used these horrid bins.

The main thing to remember when using bins/pots to grow your crops, is to water and feed well. You will see by the slightly yellowed leaves around the base of these plants (above), that I did probably not do this as much as I should have. This and the restricted bin size, may have all contributed to the crop not being the biggest size overall, however they did ok I reckon, and if they grew this well in the bin, then they should do even better when put in the ground, I figure!

I did a fair bit of research while I was waiting for the crop to grow, and seeing if it could handle the rather extreme Central Southland weather. Well, I can happily say they did! While I did not grow a bumper crop, they were mostly useable size. The great thing about Sugar Beet is, they are pretty easy to grow. They don’t seem to mind being a bit water deficient or nutrient deficient (mine sadly were), yet they still grew alright. I would not put them in the ground in the middle of the summer in Central Southland where the temperatures get to 25-35C regularly (as I did), but they would do very well in spring and autumn:

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I must admit though, that I was not quite sure what I had grown when I pulled them up, as they looked like some kind of deformed alien vegetable :(. I was very thankful after searching for images of them online, to see that most other peoples looked equally disgusting as mine, so it was not anything I had done. I can sure see why they are related to “Mangelwurzels” as they are the most mangled looking thing I have ever grown or seen before and the roots do twirl around a bit like one would presume wurzels would do (whatever they are)!

The first thing I decided I had to do after topping and tailing them (and of course forgetting to take a photo of them BEFORE I did this!), was to peel them, which proved slightly difficult, as they are really not very pretty and nor are they very practical. I ended up peeling and then digging out some other bits with a small vege knife. Considering I was going to slice them and pulp them up anyway, this may have been overkill, but I didn’t want to bits of dirt from the roots in my sugar syrup – which is what I was going to attempt to make. This is what I ended up with…

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I initially cut the Sugar Beets into small slices and bought them to the boil in filtered water. Once I had softened them (they are VERY hard raw), I used the stick blender to blitz them into a pulp and continued to cook them so the maximum sugar would come out of the blitzed pulp into the water.
NOTE: you need to keep adding filtered water and it is a good idea to have some boiling on hand for when you need to do this, which was regularly for me.

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Once the juice has cooked down quite a bit and the pulp is soft and mushy, the next step is to strain the pulp from the juice and carry on cooking the juice. I used a Pyrex jug and a stainless strainer with some muslin/cheese cloth, as below. When you have extracted the juice, put it back in the pot to cook some more. At this stage it all looks rather grey and disgusting looking, but persevere and you will get something more attractive later on, but it does take a LOT of time!

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As the juice cooks down more (once the Sugar Beet pulp is removed), it starts to eventually go more brown in colour and the beet smell/taste starts to disappear. It becomes more and more syrupy/sugary as it goes on. The aim is to cook it down as much as possible, and to get it to brown as much as possible, without actually burning it. So, keep adding more boiling filtered water as you go. I cooked mine for about 4 hours – but that was on the cast iron range, which just ticks along heat wise, enough to keep our water cylinder hot and not much more. So, if you are using a conventional stovetop, it would not take quite that long. It will get more and more brown as you go. Once you are left with a thickened, sticky syrupy brown liquid, it is time to pull it off the heat to cool down.

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Once your sugar syrup has cooled, put it into jars. As i only cooked up a few medium sized Sugar Beets for a trial run, I did not get much syrup, as you can see!

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But, it was enough to put in my this mornings black coffee and it tasted pretty good. I reckon next time I need to do about 100x the amount so that I can get a whole season’s worth of sugar syrup to store. That being said, I’m off to the garden to plant a LOT more Sugar Beet – and this time its all going in the ground. 🙂

Sugar Beets have Vit C, Iron, Calcium, Protein and Fibre, although how much of that is left after boiling them to beyond belief, is questionable! However, it has to be much healthier than most of the sugars that we have on our planet. The Cleveland Clinic website also states that the natural sugars don’t appear to trigger any negative health problems, so that is a pretty good start for me.

All in all, to sum up – I would say the experiment has been a success. It may be only a small start, but I have proved that you CAN grow your own sugar substitute in Southland! And, it tastes pretty ok too. So, for just $3.75 from Kings Seeds, you can grow a whole crop of approx. 200 Sugar Beets. Phenomenal!

Yes, it would take some time to process them into syrup, but isn’t that what being self-sufficient is all about? Working to feed yourself, instead of working to put money in someone elses pocket…. and having fun doing it??!! It sure is for us 🙂

Here’s hoping I have inspired you enough to try it and that the next time I talk to Kings Seeds, they tell me they are sold out of Sugar Beet seed, I can but hope!

Peace out, Suz

© 2014-2015: “Garden to Kitchen” with Suz – All content on this blog is Copyright.

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