Archive for the ‘Maple Syrup and Sugar’ Category

Maple Everywhere!

Wednesday, 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

A Sweet Class

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Here I am stirring carrots and holding forth about maple syrup.

Happy spring! The snow is receding in Hawley, Massachusetts. Can daffodils be far behind?

Yesterday I returned to teach a class at the Baker’s Pin in Northampton. I love this kitchen store. It has just about anything one could need for one’s kitchen (and lots of stuff one doesn’t need but wants). The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. And the owners let me come in from time to time and teach a class.

We’re at the tail end of Maple Month so my class last night featured a full meal of maple. The students did a wonderful job of chopping, kneading, mixing, baking, and sautéing. I had very little to do—which suited me just fine. We had a great group, including a couple from New Hampshire whose family has been boiling maple syrup for 160 years. Their children had given them the class as a Christmas present because the two had tons of maple syrup and no idea what to do with it.

I was too busy guiding the students and droning on about the history of maple syrup to get my camera out, but luckily one of the store’s wonderful employees, Louisa Teixeira Bushey, took some photos.

We started the meal with a green salad (spinach and arugula with crumbled Gorgonzola) tossed in my maple balsamic vinaigrette. To accompany the salad, we munched on Swedish oatmeal bread. The bread recipe appears in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook made with molasses. I find that maple syrup makes it even better—more delicately flavored but just as sweet.

Elaine Ostergren taught me to make this bread. Elaine was a Swedish-American woman who directed the choir in my church for many years. A cryptographer during World War II, Elaine raised a large family and still managed to take in foster kids with her husband Cliff. They were a darling couple, and I like to think of them when I make this bread.

Those of you who celebrate Passover won’t be able to make it for a few days—but it would make a great addition to an Easter meal. I hope any holiday you celebrate at this time of year is a joyous one.

Elaine’s Swedish Oatmeal Bread

Ingredients:

2 cups raw oatmeal (Do not use instant or steel cut.)
boiling water just to cover the oats
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons sugar plus 1 teaspoon later
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons anise seed
1 egg, beaten
6 to 6-1/2 cups flour
1 package yeast

Instructions:

Cover the oatmeal (barely) with the boiling water. Add the syrup, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the salt, the butter, the anise seed, and the egg. Add 2 cups of the flour and mix well. Soften the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in which you have dissolved the remaining sugar, and add it to the other ingredients. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that begins to hold together.

Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, and let it rise, covered with a damp towel, in a warm spot for 4 hours (less if using rapid-rise yeast). Punch down the dough, and shape it into 3 loaves. Place them in greased and floured loaf pans, and let them rise for another hour. Bake at 325 for 1 hour. Makes three loaves.

Crowning Maple

Monday, March 20th, 2017

March is Maple Month in Massachusetts and elsewhere. A new book from Abrams by Robb Turner of Dover Plains, New York, tells both a personal and a regional story about everyone’s favorite natural sweetener. The Crown Maple Guide to Maple Syrup provides a number of toothsome recipes as well.

Turner grew up on a farm in Illinois but chose a career in finance in New York City. There he clearly prospered; a decade ago he purchased a “retreat” for his family in Dutchess County, New York. Madava Farms came with more than 400 acres, and Turner soon found himself buying even more surrounding property.

In 2010 he decided to study the potential for producing a high-quality, organic brand of maple syrup from his trees. He consulted with professors, brand marketers, and professionals, and started Crown Maple. I haven’t tasted its syrup, but a 2013 article in The New York Times rhapsodized over it.

“It pours with a languor more like that of honey, and tastes softer and richer than the ‘pure maple syrup’ sold in most supermarkets,” wrote reporter Kate Zernike, who noted that Crown syrup achieves a higher sugar content than most maple syrup.

I never bother with supermarket maple syrup, living as I do in the midst of many sugarhouses. Nevertheless, The Crown Maple Guide has much to offer.

With the aid of Jessica Carbone, Turner writes in a clear and engaging voice. He traces the history of sugaring in this country and goes on to describe the processes by which today’s maple producers tap, refine, and bottle their syrup.

His prose is accompanied by diagrams and by stunning color photographs of his farm and sugaring operation.

Turner’s story is followed by 60-odd maple-related recipes. Most call for maple syrup, but some use maple sugar as well. According to Turner, the recipes come from the fertile mind and kitchen of his wife Lydia.

They cover just about any meal and course. Breakfast is represented by the likes of maple granola, maple sticky buns, and a delicious-sounding sausage. One can have maple-infused sweet potato soup for lunch, and chili or pulled pork or fish for dinner. All the recipes include maple, and all sound very doable.

I do not plan to purchase Turner’s maple syrup anytime soon. I will probably return to his book many times, however, for information and culinary inspiration.

The Crown Maple Guide to Maple Syrup is both beautiful and utilitarian. I hope it will encourage more Americans to make, buy, and cook with maple syrup.

Here’s the first recipe my family tried. We have been into cocktails of late—and my brother and I well recall our grandfather’s fondness for the occasional Old-Fashioned. We made the Crown Maple version of this classic drink recently (with a slight adaptation) in Grandpa’s vintage glasses, which are definitely worn but still beloved.

Robb’s Crown Maple Old-Fashioned

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons dark maple syrup
3 to 4 dashes Angostura bitters
2 sections of an orange
2 sections of a lemon
1/4 cup good Bourbon
ice cubes
sparkling water (we used flat water, which is what my grandfather used!)
2 stemmed Maraschino cherries (we prefer Luxardo)

Instructions:

Pour the maple syrup into a cocktail shaker or a large glass the width of a cocktail shaker. Pour the bitters over the syrup to saturate; then squeeze in the juice from 1 orange section and 1 lemon section.

Add the unsqueezed fruit; then press with a pestle to muddle the fruit with the syrup. Add the bourbon and stir well. Add 1 or 2 ice cubes and top with 1 to 2 inches of water. Stir again. Pour over ice in two glasses, and garnish each glass with a cherry.

Serves 2.

Locavore Bliss

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Making All-Hawley Frozen Yogurt makes me happy. (So does wearing big hats.)

Making All-Hawley Frozen Yogurt makes me happy. (So does wearing big hats.)

I like buying and eating locally. The food one gets is fresher that way. I’m not an obsessive locavore. Nevertheless, I have dreamed in my modest way of creating a recipe that uses ONLY ingredients native to my small hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts.

Here is that recipe!

One COULD argue that two ingredients do not constitute a recipe. The two ingredients here work so perfectly together, however, that I’m going to call them a recipe.

The dish is maple frozen yogurt. I made it using Sidehill Farm yogurt. Sidehill moved to Hawley a couple of years ago and sells lovely raw milk and other products as well as the yogurt.

The farm is worth a visit if you’re in our area. I know Carnation used to bill its products as “the milk from contented cows.” The Sidehill cows are DEFINITELY contented.

Courtesy of Sidehill Farm

Courtesy of Sidehill Farm

I combined the yogurt with maple syrup from my neighbors at Chickley Alp Farm. How much more local and delicious could food be?

This dessert was a huge hit when I visited Mass Appeal this week. Unfortunately, the video to which I link below doesn’t show the best part of the show: the look of rapture on co-host Ashley Kohl’s face when she tasted the yogurt. (No, I’m not exaggerating. “Rapture” is the mot juste.) That look made me very happy.

The yogurt also made me happy. Commercial frozen yogurt doesn’t tend to taste very yogurt-y. This version had lots of yogurt tang, combined with maple sweetness. My “recipe” was a match made in heaven.

You may ask why I used whole-milk yogurt instead of low fat. I had never made frozen yogurt before, so I consulted several cookbooks and websites. Apparently, low-fat yogurt becomes very hard very quickly if you pop leftovers in the freezer.

If you put this version in the freezer for a few hours, you will find it lovely and creamy still. (I haven’t tried freezing it for longer than a few hours; it’s too popular in my house.)

And let’s face it: frozen whole-milk yogurt is still healthier than ice cream!

Just for fun after the video link to the yogurt segment I have embedded the video for the other recipe we made on the air this week, cowboy caviar. I have featured the caviar recipe, from my wonderful Texan friend Teri Tynes, previously on this blog, and it’s remarkably tasty.

But first, the yogurt recipe:

All Hawley Frozen Yogurtweb

All-Hawley Frozen Yogurt

Ingredients:

1 quart plain Sidehill Farm Yogurt
3/4 cup Chickley Alp Maple Syrup (darkest version preferred)

Instructions:

Whisk together the yogurt and maple syrup. Place them in an ice-cream maker and freeze until ready (about half an hour, in my experience).

That’s it! Serves 8.

Now, for the yogurt video:

And here is the cowboy caviar.

Pat’s Prize-Winning Maple Walnut Wafers

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Maple month is almost over—and I have one more maple recipe to share. It comes from Pat Leuchtman of Heath, Massachusetts, a gardener and gourmet cook extraordinaire who blogs at Commonweeder. I’m proud to say that she’s a friend of mine.

Pat won a prize for her maple-walnut wafers at the 2010 Heath Fair. I love this fair, which takes place the third weekend in August each year.

It’s just big enough to offer lots of activities for fairgoers. The fair features music, sales stalls, fair food (once a year I HAVE to eat fried dough with maple cream), exhibitions of produce and art, and animals galore.

And it’s just small enough to offer fairgoers a chance to catch up with friends and neighbors.

Pat’s wafers took second place in the maple-confection category. She kindly sent me the recipe. A cross between a cookie and a candy, her sweets resemble pralines but are less overwhelmingly sweet.

Not having any walnuts on hand, I substituted pecans. The wafers disappeared with remarkable speed.

If some of your wafers have trouble coming off the cookie sheet (this happens, particularly if they are a little underdone!), roll them into little balls before putting them on the rack. They are delectable that way, too, even if they are less elegant looking than the wafers.

The Wafers

Ingredients:

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans!)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter
1 cup maple sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon cream

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Over medium-low heat combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Stir until the butter has melted and your mixture resembles a batter. Remove the pan from the heat.

Line a cookie sheet with a silicone baking mat. Drop one scant teaspoonful of the batter on the sheet at a time, leaving lots of room between dollops. (The cookies will spread!) You will need to make 2 to 3 batches to use up all of your batter.

Bake the cookies until they are bubbly at the center and beginning to brown at the edges. Pat says this can happen in 3 to 4 minutes. My wafers took about 6 minutes, but I would still suggest checking your oven after 3 to 4 minutes.

Let the wafers cool for a few minutes; then gently remove them from the pan and let them cool completely on a rack.

Makes 24 to 30 wafers.