Go With the Flow of Sweet Syrup: Sugar Maples Share Their Bounty
Pouring maple syrup into melted butter to make maple lace cookies. (Valley News-Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Mud season does have its recompense. All through the north woods, as the snow softens and thaws, you can see columns of smoke rising as farmers begin to boil the sap they’ve collected from maples in their sugar bushes. A walk on a back road at this time of year often yields the sweet scent of maple sugar, which drifts up with wood smoke from a nearby sugar house.
My family has only five sugar maples, but we still tap them and make syrup, just so we can say we did. On Saturday, the sap was running so fast that I could hear a loud, rapid plinking as it dripped into the buckets. Our first boil, with our makeshift system of camp stove and stock pot, gave us three pints of light amber syrup.
The rule of thumb is that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. We’ll never get much beyond one gallon at most, given the minuscule size of our “operation,” a term I use loosely. But it’s great to have pint jars of syrup in the pantry that can take us through the better part of a year.
Over time, I’ve learned that maple syrup’s uses stretch beyond the obvious application on pancakes, waffles and French toast. I incorporate syrup into recipes in lieu of sugar: it can be used in baking and cooking, for marinades and glazes and mustards, in salad dressing and bean casseroles. Maple syrup even shows up in a French cookbook devoted to pork — and maple syrup isn’t an ingredient you would normally associate with French cuisine.
Like anchovies, a food with which maple syrup would seem to have nothing in common, it imbues foods with a deep flavor. It’s not immediately identifiable as syrup but it adds a distinct under-note that lends any food a bit of punch. Experiment — try using maple syrup in a variety of foods and see where it best complements a dish.
Maple Baked Beans
Adapted from Hometown Cooking in New England. Yankee Books.
2 lbs. yellow eye or pea beans
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup chopped onions
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage, optional
zest and juice of 1 orange. Reserve juice.
1-2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, optional
1/4 lb. salt pork, rinsed and sliced; or 1/4 lb. good bacon
Place the beans in a bowl overnight to soak. Rinse the next day. Put in a pot with enough water to just cover them, add the baking soda and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, rinse and return to the pot.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. In a bowl combine the maple syrup, molasses, onions, salt, mustard, bay leaf, cloves, zest of orange and chopped fresh sage, if using. Add to the beans, along with the salt pork. Cover with boiling water, cover the pot and bake in a 300-degree oven for 6 to 8 hours, or use a crock pot if you have one. Uncover the last 30 minutes. Add the orange juice. Let stand for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving. I might add a splash of apple cider vinegar here, but taste it first to see whether you like it as is.
Baked Custard With Maple Syrup
From Hometown Cooking in New England, Yankee Books. The original recipe serves 12, so I halved the ingredients, roughly. You may want to play with the proportions below. Taste everything first before you commit the custards to the oven.
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
3 cups milk, scalded
1/4 - 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt. Slowly add the milk until well-blended. Pour 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup in the bottom of the custard cups or ramekins. Pour the custard mixture over the maple syrup. Dust the top with ground nutmeg.
Place the cups in a shallow bain de marie, or water bath. I use a roasting pan that I fill halfway with warm water, and place ramekins in that. Let cook for about 15 minutes. If they still look too jiggly, put them back in for about five minutes. They will settle as they cool.
Spiced Maple Sweet Potatoes
From A Master Class, from the New England Culinary Institute, written by Ellen Michaud.
1 teaspoon dark chili powder
1 teaspoon maple sugar or maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic, minced fine
2-3 large yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered.
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Oil lightly.
In a bowl combine the chili powder, maple syrup or sugar, cumin and garlic. Add the quartered sweet potatoes and olive oil and toss. Place on baking sheet and roast for about 25 minutes until they are lightly browned. If you’re inclined, you can also add a small sprinkling of chopped sage, rosemary or thyme at the very end before serving.
Nicola Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3211.