Britain used to supply Europe with sugar from their sugarcane plantations in the West Indies. However, we blockaded French ports during the Napoleonic wars. By 1806 sugar was in short supply in France. Five years later Napoleon was shown loaves of sugar made from sugar beet. He ordered that several thousands of hectares be planted with this root crop and he paid to establish processing factories. By 1850 there were many sugar beet factories in North-East France and sugar was no longer just for the rich but was affordable to all. Today it is still seen as patriotic to use white sugar from beat in preference to brown cane sugar. Many people work in the industry and consumption is encouraged by giving each employee 120kg of free sugar each year. If they are married, they get another 10 kilos, and 10 kilos more for each child! A speciality of the north of France is ‘tarte au sucre’. Interestingly several of the recipes I looked at called for ‘cassonade’, which is demerara type of brown sugar. However, ‘brown’ sugar can be made from white sugar crystals by coating them in a thin layer of molasses. To check whether your brown sugar is the real thing, dip a spoonful in some hot water. If the colour disappears, then it is merely brown-coated white sugar. Sugar cubes come in different sizes. The larger ones are marked ‘4’. It is more polite to buy smaller ones for your guests. Some people might not want a large amount of sweetener and would like to have only half a cube, however that would mean that they must crack it in half on your table which is a messy business! Many drinks like mint tea and coffee from vending machines come ready sweetened even if you push the ‘No Sugar’ option.

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