Maple Everywhere!

March 13th, 2019
Courtesy of Paul Franz/ The Recorder

March is Massachusetts Maple Month. Farmers in my area are working more or less around the clock to turn the sap that flows from maple trees in spring into the sweet elixir that New Englanders prize year round.

This coming weekend, March 16-17, is Massachusetts Maple Weekend, and members of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association have a number of celebrations planned.

Every time I drive to Greenfield these days, I pass a sign at Hager’s Farm Market luring me with the promise of fried dough topped with maple cream on Saturday. I am trying to resist temptation!

Fortunately, most of my own culinary uses for maple syrup do not involve the extreme sweetness of fried dough or even pancakes. I love to use maple to add a slight sweetness to foods like salad dressings, coleslaw, pork, and even (as you’ll see below) cheese.

I also love to contemplate maple’s place in American history. Colonists learned of its sweet bounty from Native Americans; in early colonial times, maple syrup and sugar were significantly less expensive than imported sugar from cane.

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), a prominent Pennsylvania physician and scholar who was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence, promoted maple over cane sugar not because of maple’s price but because of its means of production. Cane sugar was made by slaves, and Rush was an abolitionist.

Other abolitionists took up the cause of maple. Thomas Jefferson, who despite his own slave holdings opposed slavery in principle, fell in love with the idea of maple as an alternative to cane sugar as well.

“What a blessing,” he wrote in 1790, “to substitute a sugar which requires only the labour of children, for that which it is said renders the slavery of the blacks unnecessary [sic].”

My local maple sugarers could have told Jefferson that successful sugar production requires labor from more than children, but his heart was in the right place. He believed that maple production was a perfect occupation for the “yeoman farmer” he saw as the American ideal.

The sugar maples Jefferson planted at Monticello died; the climate of southern states proved dicey for producing maple syrup.

As sugar became less and less expensive over the decades, even hardy New Englanders (unless they were strict abolitionists) changed over to cane sugar as their primary sweetener. Maple was increasingly viewed as it is today: as an expensive and highly prized specialty food.

Maple played a part again in American history in the early 20th century in the campaign that led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Maple syrup was among the products for which many false claims were made before manufacturers were held accountable by that law.

C.C. Regier noted in a 1933 article, “More than ten times the amount of Vermont maple syrup was sold every year than that state could produce.” Happily, if something is labeled “pure maple syrup” today, the labeling is accurate.

I am are lucky to live in an area where I can purchase pure maple syrup from neighbors and visit working sugarhouses. The photo above shows me getting ready for Saint Patrick’s Day with my beloved maple vinaigrette. (Thanks to Paul Franz at the Recorder for the festive picture!)

One of my current favorite maple recipes comes from the Massachusetts Maple Producer Association. I would never have thought of pairing feta cheese with maple, but the combination is wonderful!

I made it recently on Mass Appeal, along with my Irish Cottage Soda Bread. Here is the feta recipe—and of course the videos are below.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all, and happy maple season!

 

Maple-Baked Feta

I like to serve this sweet-and-savory cheese dish with homemade crostini I make with small, store-bought baguettes.

To prepare the crostini, I slice the bread thinly, rub it with a minimal amount of olive oil on each side, and sprinkle salt on one side. I then bake the crackers for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven, turning them once.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 6-ounce block feta cheese (it’s hard to find a 6-ounce block; use part of a larger block if necessary)
1/4 cup golden raisins
a generous helping of fresh rosemary
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup maple syrup

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle half of the olive oil in the bottom of a small baking dish. (I use a brie baker from the potter Jeanne Douillard of Greenfield, Massachusetts.)

Cut the feta so that it is relatively thin and covers most of the surface of the baker. Sprinkle the raisins, rosemary leaves, and pepper over all; then top with the maple syrup and the remaining oil.

Bake until everything is bubbly and one or two raisins are starting to burn. This process can be tricky; you don’t want your dish to blacken, but you do want the cheese to soften.

Let the mixture cool slightly before serving it with crackers or crostini. Serve it with a spoon, and make sure that each little helping gets a bit of everything: cheese, raisins, rosemary, and juice. This cheese dish may also be served on the side of a green salad. Serves 4 to 6.

And now the videos!

Tinky Makes Maple-Baked Feta

Tinky Makes Irish Cottage Soda Bread

National Rhubarb Day

January 23rd, 2019

I couldn’t let National Rhubarb Day pass without a recipe from Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb! This is a short recipe, although it takes a long time to be ready since it has to sit for weeks.

In
fact, it will take an even longer time to be ready NOW because National Rhubarb
Day falls in January, when there is no rhubarb available … unless you want to
import frozen rhubarb, which I have done! (Somehow or other the rhubarb I
freeze at home doesn’t seem to last through the winter.)

My source is Frank Farms in Michigan. The rhubarb costs as much to ship as it does to buy, alas, but it’s good rhubarb.

Of
course, you may certainly wait until rhubarb season to make this simple
cordial. It’s great in goopy desserts like a trifle. Or you may drink it as an
after-dinner liqueur, what my Francophone mother used to call a “digestif.” I
can’t guarantee that it will aid your digestion, but rhubarb is known for its
medicinal properties.

When
I become famous enough, I will work on moving National Rhubarb Day to a more
appropriate time of year. Meanwhile, I assure you that the rhubarb roots are
still there beneath the snow, waiting to be celebrated….

Rhubarb Cordial

Ingredients:

2 cups rhubarb
1 cup sugar
vodka as needed

Instructions:

Place the rhubarb in a 1-quart Mason jar.  Pour the sugar in over it and stir well; then fill the jar with vodka, cover it, and place it in a cool, dark place. Gently shake and/or turn the bottle twice daily until the sugar dissolves.

At the end of 6 weeks, strain out your cordial.  This recipe makes 2 cups, more or less, depending on the juiciness of your rhubarb.

Holiday Greetings

December 23rd, 2018

Happy everything to all who read this! I hope you, like me, are surrounded by family and friends and looking forward to a positive, healthy new year.

Things are a bit hectic on my end at present; my holiday retail job is going full speed! So here is a quick recipe and not much more to help you celebrate Christmas.

I should note that the recipe—and indeed, some of the ingredients—came to me courtesy of King Arthur Flour. I have made turtles from scratch; there’s a great recipe for them in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. I have to admit, however, that I love the idea of making them as quickly and simply as one can with this recipe.

I made them last week on Mass Appeal, along with a family favorite: my mother’s fruitcake! Here is a link to the fruitcake video, and here is the one for the turtles.

Please note that you do have to store the turtles on parchment; they stick to just about any other surface. You won’t have to store them long; they disappear quickly!

Merry Christmas to all…

Snappy Turtles

Ingredients:

16 pecan halves
1 4-ounce block of caramel, cut into 16 pieces, or 16 caramel candies
16 milk chocolate disks or small pieces of chocolate
1 pinch fleur de sel or other sea salt for each candy

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment or silicone.

Spread the pecans around the sheet, keeping them as far apart from each other as possible. Flatten each caramel piece into a round about the size of a half dollar, and place the caramel pieces on top of the pecans.

Heat the candies in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, until the caramel starts to melt. Remove them from the oven, and press a piece of chocolate on top of each candy. Sprinkle a little of the salt on top.

Allow the candies to cool before removing them from the pan and placing them on parchment paper. Makes 16 candies.

A Thanksgiving Salad

November 21st, 2018

The older I get—and the more work I have to do on the days before and after Thanksgiving—the simpler I like to make Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law Leigh and I will experiment a bit over the weekend, once the holiday is over. She wants to play with pastry. I want to make some lovely potato buns my friend Sandy makes every year.

But on Thanksgiving itself we’ll have a simple meal and let the turkey shine. Turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, a green vegetable, perhaps a little mashed potato … and a salad.

I first encountered Brussels sprouts in a salad a few years back at the home of my cousins Alan and Jane. As I have written before here, I don’t care for boiled sprouts. They fill the house with an icky cabbage-y smell and take on a depressingly sodden texture.

When roasted or sautéed or used raw (as they are here), however, they smell fine, taste better, and have a satisfyingly crunchy texture. Lauren Zenzie on Mass Appeal scooped up what was left of the salad after we made it on the air for her lunch.

A note about vinegar: I go back and forth between cider vinegar and red-wine vinegar in this recipe. The cider version is more autumnal; the wine vinegar gives the salad dressing a bit more tang.

We also made my cranberry-apple crisp for dessert on the air. I’m having trouble uploading the videos, but you may watch them here if you wish: Brussels-Sprouts Salad and Cranberry-Apple Crisp.

Happy Thanksgiving! May all your sprouts be crunchy….

Brussels Sprouts Salad

Ingredients:

16 Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries (more if you like)
6 to 8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
2 small apples (or 1 large apple), cored and sliced (optional but delicious)
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon raw honey
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or cider vinegar)

Instructions:

Trim the Brussels sprouts; then slice them with a knife or shred them with a food processor or a mandoline.

Combine the sprouts, the celery, the onion bits, the cranberries, and the apple pieces. Mix the remaining ingredients into a dressing, and toss half of the resulting dressing onto the salad, adding more dressing if needed. Serves 8.

The photo is a bit fuzzy, but you should get the idea!

Cider and Autumn

October 31st, 2018

I’m not much of a cider drinker in general. When cider comes fresh from a local orchard, however, I can’t resist it.

This weekend my area in western Massachusetts will once again celebrate Franklin County Cider Days. Hard cider is now very chic—but we loved it before it was chic; this festival has been going on for more than two decades.

This year’s offerings include an amateur-cider-making competition, a cider dinner (already sold out!), tastings, lectures, and cooking demonstrations. I’m not involved this year, but even without me the weekend will be full of fun and flavor.

So when I went on Mass Appeal this morning to celebrate Halloween I felt that I should make something cider related. I only spearheaded one segment myself; the cidery in my own town of Hawley, Headwater Cider, sent a representative to make some pretty snazzy cocktails with Headwater’s hard cider.

My segment was simpler but also tasty. I mulled some cider. To me, mulling cider and Halloween go together; when the door keeps opening to admit trick or treaters, it’s nice to have something warming on the stove.

Because mulling cider is such a snappy recipe, I also made some of my chock-full oatmeal cookies. They go beautifully with the cider—and they’re a great Halloween offering for any trick or treaters who can’t eat chocolate.

Happy Halloween! Happy Cider Season!

Mulled Cider

Ingredients:

1/2 gallon apple cider (use the best quality you can find, from a farm/orchard if possible)
4 cinnamon sticks
several cloves (whole)
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup brown sugar or maple syrup (optional, but useful if your cider is on the tart side; mine definitely didn’t need the additional sweetness)

Instructions:

Combine the ingredients in a heavy saucepan. If you want to avoid a mess, put the spices in a cheesecloth bag or infuser. Or just ladle around them at the end (my choice).

Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a VERY low setting and simmer, almost covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Serves 8.

And now the videos:

Cider Cocktails from Headwater Cider

Tinky Makes Mulled Cider and Chock-Full Oatmeal Cookies