Wednesday, May 20, 2009

101 ways with sugar beets (well, okay, six)


I only planted a tiny patch of sugar beets this year, as an experiment. (Most of my gardening has been experimenting really - it's all pretty new to me - although I'm lucky enough to have a Dad who is something of an expert, although he's too much of a perfectionist to see himself that way ... He was the one who suggested I try growing sugar beets one time when I was off on a wishful thinking tangent about growing maple trees ...!)

I was thrilled to bits by how well the sugar beets grew. That's our harvest above - not alot - but enough to try a few different things with:

1. Leafy greens
The sugarbeet greens were enough to meet all our green vege needs for a week. They are a bit thicker and more leathery than other beet greens I've tried - so I treated them more like kale.

2. Raw beets
I thought they might be nice grated raw in salad, like beetroot is. One taste of a few gratings was enough to put paid to that idea. Raw, the sugar beet was very bitter and, worse, burned my throat as it went down.

3. Roasted beets
Again, treating them like beetroot, I tried roasting some chunks in oil along with some other root veges. Success! The texture was like roast beetroot. The taste - very similar but even sweeter than beetroot. Because of the strong sweetness, I wouldn't eat them roasted on their own. But mixed in with other veges - yum.

4. Fermented beets
I have some grated sugarbeet lacto-fermenting in brine on a shelf. I put a bit of carrot in there for colour, too. It's fermenting very slowly - because of the cold weather I suppose - and I'm not sure how nice it's going to be.

I tried a taste yesterday and it reminded me of old dishcloth smell. (I haven't had much luck, taste-wise, with fermenting beetroot either.) Still, I think it could be improved with a bit of onion and spice. I might try adding some.

5. Beet syrup for lemon cordial and water kefir
After I'd tried all those other things, I peeled and finely sliced all the rest of the sugar beets and boiled them to make an enormous batch of sugary syrup.

I started out using the method here. At first I didn't boil the mixture down as much as the recipe says. I left it fairly watery (it was still very sweet)and tried using that for a couple of things:

I fermented some water kefir grains in 50/50 water and sugar beet syrup. The kefir grains seemed to like it! And the result was nice. A slightly more interesting taste than kefir made from just cane sugar and water.

I also used it in some lemon cordial instead of sugar - and both children gave it their stamp of approval.

6. Beet sugar crystals
I really hoped to be able to boil the syrup down and crystalise it, as the recipes said. But for whatever reasons, I didn't seem to be able to get the crystalisation to happen. Maybe I just didn't boil it down enough.

What I ended up with was just a thick syrup - super sweet - and quite bitter. I noticed though, that it loses obvious bitterness when diluted, so this doesn't seem to be a problem.

I froze this very reduced syrup in ice cube trays to chuck into the blender for smoothies instead of honey - and use for whatever else.

I'm really happy with the sugar beets, and hoping to grow more of them this year, and try a lot more things with them.

Maybe I can even power our car with them. Or maybe not.

9 comments:

Cally said...

Okay, you have me hooked =she says, adding sugar beets to her seed list for spring=

Johanna Knox said...

Yeah,they are really cool! My Mum found a bit of info about them in some old articles the other day too, which I'm hoping to post ....

Heather said...

Hi Johanna,

That sounds really cool!

Next time (or if you want to have a go again with the juice you have frozen) you could try and add some regular sugar crystals to the syrup at the end. Big ones like demerera sugar would be best. This encourages other crystals to form.

Also, you know you've boiled it enough if when you take a little bit of syrup and put it somewhere cold it goes cloudy from teeny tiny crystals starting to form.

On a different note, you mentioned a while back you were interested in how we got on with trying to make our own biogas. Unfortunately, we've decided it won't work. We would have to make enough gas to do all of our cooking on as having to always change between two gas sources would be too hard. Turns out that to generate the amount of gas we use just from kitchen scraps would take 50kg of waste per week! We make about 3-4kg. Looks like I now know why almost all domestic biogas systems incorporate at least human waste, and often animal waste as well!

Cool to hear you'll be on This Way Up next week!

--Heather :-)

Johanna Knox said...

Heather - Aha - BIG sugar crystals! Do you know, I added a few sugar crystals hoping that might help - but I used caster sugar as it was what I had to hand!

Thanks for the tip re testing to see if it's been boiled enough. I will try that with the next batch. That's great.

Very interesting re the biogas.

Heather said...

Good to know my chemistry degree's good for something ;-)

daniel said...

Seed_seekers on ebay has organic sugar beet seeds

Anonymous said...

We took a medium sized sugar beet from the field cleaned, peeled and sliced about quarter inch thick and cooked in water just to cover till tender but not mushy - about 15 min. Then added vinegar and water in equal amounts with a little salt, pickling spice and celery seed and sliced onion. Then let sit in frig overnight and they were tasty sweet-sour pickled beets!

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FarmGirl said...

This is my second year growing sugar beets. Last year, I peeled, sliced thin, and boiled them until I got a satisfactory molasses-type liquid. I used the liquid in place of liquid sugar in baking recipes. I saved the pulp and used it in a batch of muffins- incredible! The recipe actually called for regular beet pulp, and I just decreased the sugar. http://www.cakestudent.com/chocolate-beet-muffins/
Seems like a good way to reduce store-bought sugar needs =)