Monthly Archives: November 2009

Homemade Michigan Beet Sugar: Reviving a Tradition

Picture of sugar beet farmer in michigan from 1939

A previous post talked about how most of the sugar beets grown in Michigan come from GMO sugar beets. I am not a big fan of GMO foods and thought it unfortunate that the access to non-GMO white beet sugar, a proud Michigan staple, is not available. Being a local food guy, I thought that there has to be a way to get my hands on beet sugar or make it myself.

Then I found this video on how to make sugar from sugar beets.

The process is a little involved, but I think it is doable and not much more involved then canning tomatoes or making jam. Maybe along with canning, pickling and jam making, a grass root movement can be started to bring back home beet sugar making.

Most home gardens in Michigan used to include a spot to grow sugar beets for sugar. I do not use much white sugar. I used about one five pound bag of big chief this year for a family of four, along with Michigan maple syrup and honey. Looking at the demo, I figure that a single beet could provide a few ounces of white sugar, and even more left over molasses sugar. I estimate that a small patch of a few dozen sugar beets could produce enough sugar for the year, about a pound of white sugar per a half to a dozen beets. I admit that I am getting ahead of myself having neither grown sugar beets or made white sugar from them, but I am up to the challenge. Maybe by this time next year, I will be planning my Thanksgiving desserts that includes my organically home grown, and made white beet sugar.

More info on Michigan Sugar Beets from MSU

GMO Sugar Beets Lawsuit Can Impact Michigan Farmers

Frank Morton, a seed farmer in Oregon is spearheading a lawsuit charging that the USDA approved Roundup Ready sugar beets without assessing potential environmental impacts, like genetic contamination and herbicide resistance.

Read full Article on Market Place

Seattle Times Article

This fight is directed toward Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) sugar beets, and it can have a huge impact on Michigan’s sugar beet industry because most of the states sugar beet crop comes from GMO seed.

The problem is that plants like beets can spread their pollen in the wind. This means that a field of GMO sugar beets can combine with an organic or non-GMO field next to it and pass on the GMO traits. GMO sugar beets can also affect table beets and related crops like chard. Monsanto, who owns the patent on the GMO seeds, has sued farmers whose plants took on the GMO traits for patent infringement.

Morton contests, “If biotech traits show up in my seeds, then my seeds are worthless. If my traits show up in conventional or biotech seeds, it’s not a big deal to them, it does not destroy their value.”

Genetically engineered soy beans, and corn are also a concerns for organic farmers.

Zelig Golden, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety, is moving the court to issue a permanent injunction to halt the sale and planting of GE sugar-beet seeds now and into the future, until the USDA does its job to protect consumers and farmers alike. This can take years to resolve.

The parties meet in court next month. In a similar case, a judge banned Roundup Ready alfalfa; Monsanto’s appealing that decision to the Supreme Court. If there’s a ban on sugar-beet planting nationwide, it’s doubtful there’s enough conventional seed in storage to lay in a crop next spring.

Thinking locally with food and living in Michigan, I was excited to have access to a ready supply of white beet sugar. This meant that I could still have my local cake and eat it too.

Unfortunately there was more to my local cake story. The GMO sugar beets was the elephant in the room I was willfully ignoring in order to justify my 5LB bag of Big Chief brand white sugar. I do not knowingly support and buy GMO foods, so my bag of local white sugar will have to go. I did a half hearted search for organic michigan sugar, but have yet to find any probably because it does not exist.

What is wrong with GMO foods? For one, the whole point of a GMO plant like sugar beets is to allow them to resist the effects of an herbicide. So you are buying food that is sprayed, and not organic. For two, the question of GMO food safety and environmental impact is still not out.

And if a GMO trait can spread to other plants like beets, who is to stay it will not spread to the same or other weeds that they are trying to prevent? We can be creating herbicide resistant super weeds making this whole study a complete waste of effort, and worse than before.

It is unfortunate that sugar beets farmers in Michigan may take a hit if planting comes to a halt because of the lawsuit. But why was a conclusive environmental impact study not done before farmers were allow to grow GMO sugar beets, and why was there no back up plan from the states agriculture extension services to stock pile seed in case these GMO plants were found unsafe? And what is the back up plan for corn and soy for that matter?

The fact that most sugar beets come from GMO seeds that have been modified to resist herbicides. This means that my bag of michigan sugar most likely comes from GMO seeds/plants. There is no way of knowing this for sure because there is currently no labeling laws for GMO produced foods. This is because the GMO industry fought against it, out of a rightful fear that consumers would avoid GMO labeled products. I, for one would like to know if the food that I am eating came from GMO ingredients.

The other end of this is that GMO sugar beets can potential pass traits on to the beets and chard in my home garden. If that happens will a company come after me or my fellow community gardeners with a patent infringement lawsuit? It seems naive to think that they can’t or won’t. Just because we home gardeners are not big farmers or may not live in a big agriculture economically dominated community does not mean that we are safe.

Slow Food Huron Valley Potluck

Ann Arbor FoodHere is my meal at the Slow Food of Huron Valley Potluck and recipe contest. Potlucks, especially those hosted by gardeners/farmers and local food cooks are my favorite. You never know what people will bring, and I always leave with a recipe or two. There were 40-50 people and there was everything from soups, stews, kraut, bread, pizza, desserts and more with a local ingredient theme.

I submitted a recipe for pumpkin ice cream. It was the first time I made this ice cream and I felt it could have been creamier and lighter. The pumpkin puree throw me, but it still came out tasty, just not what I was shooting for.

The follow are a few picture of the recipe contest winner. I forget some of the names and the winning dishes. (opps)

Winners received a huge squash and a chicken. The event was cosponsored with Tantre Farm,  Mill Pond Bread and Old Pine Farm. There was a table in the back some great local food resources, farms, and food products. (I am working a local resources listing for this blog…be out soon).

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Dessert Winners: Banana Bread

Some more picture of the food and the event

My Pumpkin Ice Cream

My Pumpkin Ice Cream

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Apple Heritage Museum: Amadeaus Scott

Ann Arbor Food

The Apple Heritage Museum is a traveling collection of the history of the apple and its uses in Washtenaw County. Exhibits include apple coring, peeling, and cider making equipment, maps and inventory of local apple trees, and a recipe collection.

The museum is run by Amadeaus Scott and has exhibited at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

At todays exhibit, Amadeaus had apple pie. In talking to her about the project, she hopes to eventual have a space for the museum. I for one would visit a museum that offered free apple pie samples to visitors. In fact what museum would not benefit from offering pie.

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

A Moveable Feast


This picture is from a post from The Atlantic. It is of a couple from Brooklyn, NY who converted the back of their truck into a movable garden.

Read Full Story

This story hits home for me after my trek up to Lansing. I almost got killed by an aggressive, large pick up truck driving maniac on route to check out the Food Ways exhibit. Me in my Prius and him in his, I am not sure the make, huge pick up truck. I could not help noticed that the bed of his four door, low gas milage, vehicle was empty.

In fact most pick up truck I see have empty beds, and are probably not really used to carry anything more then the person driving it. I say if they are only driving a truck to puff up their peacock feathers in a fashion display to impress the opposite sex, then why not at least get some good use out of it and plant a garden in back.

Michigan Food Ways Exhibit: MSU

Ann Arbor Food

Show Michigan’s ranking of certain foods by amount produced compared to other food producing states

Ann Arbor Food

Pasty Festival Mascot

Michigan Agriculture Stats.

Here is a picture from the Food Ways exhibit at the MSU. The exhibit feature cooking tools and gadgets from old time michigan cooks, and native americans, ranging from pottery, butter molds, squirrel gelatin molds, apple peelers, sausage stuffers, ceramic crocks and more.

There were a wide range of pictures and stories of some the cultural influences like this picture of the mascot from the Pasty Festival.

One of the highlights of the show was a rebuilt general store featuring a tour guide to answer questions. The store displays were packed with some of the same food brands that we still use today, like King Arthur Flour, and Jiffy Mix. The general store was also the post office, and sold clothes, horse riding equipment, sewing supplies, hardware, and just about everything.

For a food geeks like myself, the exhibit was great. On a local food perspective, what was interesting in the general store was the push for availability of imported foods like coffee, and spices for baking. Most of the food cooked was probably local like farm raised meats, and dairy, home gardening, hunted game and birds, fishing, and from local farms, but having a touch of cinnamon, or other spices was a luxury and I imagine many cooks enjoy the novelty. For myself, giving up spices would be hard to do if I were to cook 100% locally.

Immigrants often changed the culinary landscape by introducing their own dishes and either adapting recipes from what was available, growing what they could not find, or importing they needed ingredients. The climate of Michigan is similar to much of Europe, which aloud many immigrants to grow the foods that they were accustomed too. As a newbie to Michigan, I have to admit that I never had a pasty. But I have a plan to take a “Pasty World Tour,” of the UP next summer.

One things that stands out is that we as local Michigan foodies have the opportunity to both honor past food ways traditions, and to create some new ones of our own from our own food traditions that we brought here.

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Food

Old Jiffy Mix Box

Ann Arbor Food

Squirrel Gelatin Mold


Open Fire Toasters

Ann Arbor Food

Maple Taps

Ann Arbor Food

Old Vernors Soda Bottle

Local Sesame Seed Buns

Ann Arbor Food

Here is my first crack at making a local hamburger bun for my local remake of a McDonalds meal. The dough came to two pounds and I divided it into eleven almost three ounce portions. They probably could be a little bigger say four ounce to make a nice large size hamburger bun, or made smaller for a dinner roll. I have not tried it, but I bet they could be shaped in a tub and proofed to make a great hotdog bun too.

Local Sesame Seed Buns

Make eight large burger buns


3 cups Westwind white AP Flour  $1.87

1 cup Westwind whole wheat AP Flour $.62

1 cup Gensey milk $.60

3 tablespoon of honey Bobilin Honey $.84

2 tablespoons of melted butter $.50

1 1/2 teaspoons of instant yeast $.10

2 eggs (one for egg wash) $.60

3/4 teaspoon salt $.05

couple tablespoons of sesame seeds (optional, not local, but they are grow in the US in Texas)

$4.93 Total

$.62 per bun


In a Bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Stir in the milk, honey, mixed egg and melted butter. Form into a dough. On a floured surface, Knead the dough to work the gluten. This will be a pretty soft dough so you might need a little more flour, but do not add too much. It should be moist. Knead for 8-10 minutes.

Transfer the dough a clean bowl and coat lightly with some oil. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic and set out in a warm place to rise. In about two hours the dough should have doubled in size. Punch the dough down and release the gas. Let sit for a few minutes, then place the dough on a floured surface, and divide into the number of equal portion you want to make. 1-2 ounces for dinner rolls and 3-4 ounce for hamburger buns.

Roll the portioned dough into balls. On a sheet pan lined with parchment, place the ball on the pan with a few inches of space in between. Flatten down the balls. This is to make them bigger and the same shape as a hamburger bun. Cover with a floured cloth and let sit our until doubled in size, about an hour. If your house is cold, turn on your oven to the lowest temperature for a minute or so. Open the door of the oven for a few seconds to release some of the heat, and place the trays on the oven rack to proof. Note that you do not want your oven too hot, just warm.

When they have risen, brush the buns gently with an egg wash of egg and a little bit of water. Sprinkle the buns with sesame seed, poppy seed, onion flakes or local pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Bake for 15 mintes in a 375 degree oven until golden brown. Cool on a rack. These buns can store in the refrigerator for a week in a plastic bag or frozen for a few months.