Monday, December 16, 2019

History Behind Sweet Treats by Paty Jager

With this being a month were many make sweet treats, I thought it would be fun to talk about old time sweeteners.

Sugar cane was grown in India, making refined sugar an expensive and hard to get commodity until the late 1880's. Pioneers and those traveling west in the United States had trouble finding or being able to afford sugar. They resorted to the easier to find and less expensive sweeteners.

Maple syrup was on sweetening ingredient that could be found where ever there were maple trees. It is an Iroquois legend that the wife of an Indian chief discovered maple syrup. Her husband had planted his tomahawk in a tree and the next morning, he pulled it out and headed off to hunt. The syrup seeped, from the scar made in the tree, down into a vessel that was sitting under the gash. The woman tasted the sap, found it pleasing, and added it to her meal that night. This started the "Maple Moon" season for the Indians. The colonists learned of this from the Indians and soon learned even more about extracting the sap from the maples. Maple syrup it was only available late winter or early spring.

It's said that care and cultivation of bees for their honey has been going on for at least 3000 years. Honey is used for more than a sweetener. It has been used as medicine and for fermentation in beverages, like the English mead. The earliest settlers to come to American brought bees with them. Many families had hives in their backyards. It's believed that strong winds carried the bees westward. The wild bees soon adapted to using trees. Pioneers and settlers learned to find honey in the trees and eventually to recapture bees to keep their supply of the sweetener always on hand. Honey was kept and used year round.

Until after the Civil War, molasses was the most common sweetener in the United States. The words sorghum and molasses were interchanged when talking about the sweetener. However, sorghum comes from a different plant than molasses. Sorghum seeds first came from West Africa in the early 1700s. However, it wasn't widely planted until the mid-nineteenth century, where nearly every farming family had a patch of sorghum for their own use. Sorghum is harvested and pressed in the late fall. 

I do a lot of baking and candy making this time of year. I use refined sugar as well as molasses in some of my baking. I rarely use honey but there are times, I experiment with it.

Do you use any of the above sweeteners? Do you harvest any of it yourself or purchase it from a store?

I don't have any new Christmas books out. But you can check out my website and see if you'd be interested in any of my books.

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 43 novels, 8 novellas, and numerous anthologies of murder mystery and western romance. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

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Paty Jager said...

If anyone has a good recipe, please share in the comments.

Julie Lence said...

Hi Paty: I don't have a good recipe but just wanted to say I enjoyed learning about different sweeteners and hope one day I can incorporate into a story. Hugs!

Renaissance Women said...

Since I try to avoid sugar and other sweeteners, when necessary I use stevia or maple syrup.

I enjoyed this post and it made me think. Doris

Paty Jager said...

Doris, I'm glad the post was interesting to you. I need to cut out more sugar. I'm trying a new eating regime right after Christmas, hoping to shed the extra pounds I don't need to carry around.