Sugar, Oh-oh, Honey, Honey: Local Substitutions

If you are eating local, there are some things you need to do without!  It’s okay–there are local substitutions for almost everything. And sometimes it’s a good thing.

Black Friday Shopping coffee. Out again!
Black Friday Shopping coffee. Out again!

The recent holidays certainly put this to the test!  But it was a great learning experience – and I expect to keep using some of the new local substitutions even when my year-long experiment ends!  

New Exceptions 

Squished bread
What bread looks like pried-out after sticking

But let’s start with some exceptions.  We started with four exemptions (our “ground rules“)and recently added a few more.  These are: Pam cooking spray, baking soda/baking powder, and imported NA beer.  The first two just weren’t worth the struggle.   And for the latter, a better alcohol-free beer makes it easier to drink less (which I am supposed to do for my health)!

When spring rolls around (have you seen the Michigan snow pictures!), I may make a field trip to Michigan where I hear word of a good NA craft beer.

I feel fortunate that Red Star Yeast is headquartered in Milwaukee!

Even the cat dressed for Christmas Eve - loading Wisconsin beer and hard cider into the cooler
Even the cat dressed for Christmas Eve – loading Wisconsin beer and hard cider into the cooler.


The holidays highlighted one item I knew I’d eventually miss – crackers. How many appetizers can you bring without them!  The local brand I found was expensive and we can eat a lot of crackers!

I thought about baking some, but with final exams and holiday preparations, experiments were SO not happening.  The solution ended up being simple — bread rounds sliced thin.  We started with French bread brushed with olive oil and toasted, but ended up preferring plain, slightly dry, day-old French bread—how easy is that!  And eventually, we realized that cheese and sausage were delightful atop perfectly fresh rustic rye bread.  I’m going to be experimenting with a slim round rye soon!

Yes, I think the commercial cracker avoidance may be permanent!


Sugar has been perhaps the most interesting challenge.

A friend had suggested that Crystal Sugar was made from Minnesota sugar beets, but further research showed it is also grown further west and the plant itself is even just outside my 500-mile regional limit :(.

Thanksgiving pies. Mine were made with local substitioins for sugar--honey or maple syrup!
Thanksgiving pies–mine made with honey or maple syrup!

But I am doing pretty well with sugar substitution.  Between honey, maple syrup and sorghum, I don’t feel deprived.  What have I learned?

  • Different flavors go with different foods. Honey has an “earthy” flavor and pairs great with rich flavors like sweet potato.  Maple is more delicate and I use that with foods that might be overpowered by honey (maple nut pie, apple). Sorghum (or a blend) is good where you need molasses or brown sugar flavors.
  • You need to adjust thickening. I add extra egg or flour (or other thickener) to make up for the fact that I am using a liquid sweetener. For whipped cream, I have been using maple syrup but adding mascarpone cheese to thicken it up more.  Killer good!
  • You MIGHT need to reduce the sweetener (that’s good!). If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, I will usually use less honey or maple syrup.  But it doesn’t always work, so I taste and adjust.
  • Sometimes you just need granulated sugar. The streusel topping on my French Apple Pie turned out clumpy made with honey (and it was also too strongly flavored).  I have some really expensive granulated maple sugar, that I am reserving for very limited applications.
  • I intend to do more experimentation soon—honey caramel anyone?

In the end I’m pretty confident that using local substitutions means I eat less sugar period.  So this may be a keeper too.  And my sister, who is on a whole 30-like diet, was happy she could now eat some of the insides of my holiday pies (leaving the crust).

For more tips, see King Arthur’s Baking with Liquid Sweeteners.

Holiday Weight

And now to the question I keep hearing, “Are you losing weight?”

In a typical holiday season, I weigh myself daily, pay close attention to what I eat and obsess over every bite.  This way I limit my weight gain to around 5 lbs.


Outing to Great Lakes Distillery -- local spirits!
Outing to Great Lakes Distillery — local spirits!

This year, with my school projects, plus kids coming home, life seemed extra busy and I stopped getting on the scale at Thanksgiving. You gotta keep adult kids entertained :), so we also seemed to go out more than usual. Even worse, the week of finals (right before Christmas), I stress-ate everything in sight.

So overall I was pretty fearful.

When my youngest left for college (Sunday), I weighed myself and found I’d gained only 2 lbs.  Some of that may even spontaneously disappear since we went out twice (one “party”, one farewell dinner) in the four days before she left.

So pretty sure eating local has been positive and waiting to see how things go as things get back to normal!

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