Posts Tagged ‘Maple Syrup and Sugar’

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.

Betsy’s Breakfast Bread Pudding

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

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Most people use maple syrup as a condiment rather than an ingredient. Here is a recipe for something on which you pour the syrup.

 

Betsy Kovacs babysat for me when I was little—and I in turn babysat for her children as a teenager. The pattern would probably have continued forever if I had had kids when I was in my twenties. As it is, we are still friends, and I appreciate her adorable children (and now grandchildren!) as much as ever. Disconcertingly, Betsy looks almost EXACTLY the way she did when she was babysitting for me (maybe even a little younger and cuter).

 

Betsy calls this dish French toast. I have rechristened it breakfast bread pudding because (a) it is one, sort of, and (b) I see pudding everywhere. (Yankee magazine did, after all, dub me the Queen of Pudding!)

 

Betsy’s rich concoction has a couple of advantages over conventional French toast. First, it is ready to eat all at once so you avoid the awkwardness of batches. Second, the prep work can be done the evening before you bake the pudding so it’s a handy thing to serve brunch guests.

Betsy usually makes a big batch of this for entertaining. She uses a whole loaf of bread (usually challah) and fills two large quiche pans. I was cooking for two so I made a tiny batch. This involved 2 to 3 slices of bread, 1 to 2 eggs, and slightly less than 1 cup of liquid. I had no challah so I used a dense homemade white bread.

 

I have left quantities vague as she did so that you can make as much or as little as you like. Betsy tells me that her version is usually a little browner and crispier than mine (I was a bit paranoid about burning the thing!) so feel free to leave it in the oven a little longer.

 

Betsy and her Jack

Betsy and her Jack

Ingredients:

 

a “tight” bread like challah, at least a couple of days old

unsalted butter as needed

eggs (4 to 6 for a whole loaf, depending on how eggy you like things: I say go eggy!)

enough milk or cream or a mixture to cover the bread (I used a mixture, with more milk than cream)

cinnamon to taste (I used 1/2 teaspoon for my small dish)

sugar (2 tablespoons for a whole loaf of bread; I used 1/2 tablespoon)

freshly grated nutmeg to taste (I used 1/4 teaspoon for my small dish)

 

Instructions:

 

Butter your baking dish or dishes. Slice the bread. Butter it on one side, and place it butter side down in the baking dish. Break up the bread as needed so that the bottom of the dish is covered.

 

Butter the side of the bread that is now facing up. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, milk and/or cream, cinnamon, and sugar. Pour this combination over the bread. Add a little more milk and/or cream as needed to make sure the custard goes just under (or just to) the top of the bread. Do not go over the bread as this will make the pudding erupt in the oven.

 

Grate the nutmeg over the top of the pudding. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least an hour and up to overnight. The bread should absorb all (or almost all) of the custard.

 

When you are almost ready to bake the pudding, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes or more until the top of the pudding turns golden brown. The custard will puff up but deflate after it hits the table. Serve with lots of maple syrup. A large batch (2 pans) serves 8 to 10. My tiny batch served 2 to 3.

 

Betsy says that leftover pudding may be wrapped in plastic wrap after cooling, then frozen and reheated in the oven at a future date (sans plastic wrap, of course).

Maple Musings (and Maple-Glazed Carrots!)

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

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Pardon me if I wax slightly sappy in this post. I’m talking about maple syrup so a little sap doesn’t seem inappropriate.

I like to think of cooking as a folk science. The science part is indisputable. Most cooking tasks—whisking, boiling, baking—are simply applied chemistry. We read books to help us figure out just the right formulas to create using our culinary versions of test tubes. Sometimes we experience a scientific breakthrough and discover a new formula in the kitchen.

Nevertheless, many of our most beloved formulas for cooking have been handed down to us, like a family story or a favorite lullaby. Perhaps the best analogy is a folk song.

My neighbor, composer Alice Parker, uses this analogy a lot. She points out that we don’t know who wrote a song like “Wayfaring Stranger.” In fact, the very definition of a folk song is that the composer and lyricist are anonymous. A song like this belongs to all of us, and we re-compose it every time we sing it.

(A choir director for whom I once sang that very song at a Lenten service thought I re-composed it a little too much, in fact, but I stuck to my guns and my version of the melody.)

Folk songs cannot be copyrighted, although arrangements of them can. Similarly, it is impossible to copyright a list of ingredients, but one can copyright the words one uses in the directions for a recipe. We don’t value folk songs or recipes any the less because they are not “original.”

In fact, we often value them more because they have sprung up in different places and been modified as they go from singer to singer, cook to cook. We certainly value not having to come up with something completely new every time we get out the guitar or the saucepan–although we enjoy improvising on the songs and recipes we have received from others.

Musical tradition and culinary tradition are miracles we celebrate every day.

At this time of year I’m particularly grateful for the tradition of boiling down the sap of sugar maples. Just as it’s hopeless to pinpoint the very first person who ever opened his or her mouth and sang “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger” (or “I am a poor wayfaring stranger” or any other version of this lyric) it’s impossible to figure out who first made maple syrup.

We assume it was a Native American since the original residents of New England were sweetening their food with maple long before Europeans arrived. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine how the first maple syrup came to be made. Did someone accidentally poke a hole in a tree that was near a cooking pot and then notice that the resultant food tasted extra sweet? We’ll never know.

I do know that my neighbors who have sugarhouses do what they do in large part because it is part of the history of their families and of this region.

I’m lucky to live in a place where a folk food tradition like maple still exists–where people are willing to do the hard work necessary to nurture the trees, maintain the sap lines, and boil (and boil and boil and boil) the sap. And I treasure the liquid amber they produce.

Here is another recipe that celebrates that tradition and the diversity of dishes one can make with New England’s folky, sappy mud-season staple.

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Maple Glazed Carrots

I love stretching the uses of maple syrup beyond breakfast and dessert. These carrots get a lot of sweetness out of just a little syrup. (And they’re easy!) Feel free to use whole cut-up carrots instead of baby ones if you like.

If you want to add to the feast of flavors, add a little minced fresh ginger to the maple mixture—or toss some fresh dill on top of the carrots when you serve them. I think the dish is pretty terrific as is.

Ingredients:

28 baby carrots
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons sweet butter

Instructions:

Bring the baby carrots to a boil in a pot of lightly salted water. Boil them until they are ALMOST done. (This won’t take very long.) Put 2 tablespoons of the water in which they boiled in a small sauté pan. Drain the carrots, discarding the remaining water, and rinse them in cold water to stop them from cooking any longer.

To the 2 tablespoons water add the maple syrup and butter. Heat this mixture until the butter melts. Add the carrots and toss them in the liquid. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, covered but tossing frequently, until the liquid almost evaporates (about 5 to 10 minutes). Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Sugaring Off at South Face Farm

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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March is Massachusetts Maple Month according to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. This organization of professional and amateur maple farmers is headed by Tom McCrumm of Ashfield. I figured I couldn’t visit a more appropriate farm than his to kick off my maple recipes this month so I headed recently to South Face Farm.

 

The sugarhouse at South Face Farm looks exactly as a sugarshack should. It sits on a quiet road, not far from Route 116 in Ashfield. Its low ceiling provides eaters with a sense of intimacy, and its décor is old fashioned. Old food tins and antique cooking implements line the walls. Large windows (many of them sporting a jug of amber syrup) look out on the farm Tom and his wife Judy Haupt steward.

 

The sugarhouse restaurant is open only about 12 days a year, on weekends during maple season. Nevertheless, Tom told me, those 12 days are vital to his sugaring enterprise. “The only way you can make a living in this business is to have a roadside sugarhouse and sell,” he told me, characterizing what he does as “agriculture as entertainment.”

 

“You’ve got to cut out the middle man. You’ve got to produce a good-quality product and sell it directly to the customer.”

 

Tom invited me into the kitchen to watch Skylar Abbatiello of Ashfield make one of the sugarhouse’s signature foods, corn fritters. Skylar is a lanky, genial high-school student who is in his fourth year at the sugarhouse but his first year of cooking. He sounded proud of having worked his way up through the ranks at South Face Farm. Tom told me that this pattern is common among the restaurant’s staff members, who are both local and loyal.

 

The kitchen definitely had a family atmosphere. Skylar was confidently and carefully supervised by the sugarhouse’s head cook (and kitchen designer), Bonnie, an Ashfield resident who preferred not to supply her last name. Bonnie explained that she and Tom McCrumm had developed the sugarhouse recipes to emphasize scratch cooking and local ingredients. The blueberries, eggs, milk, and ice cream served at the restaurant are all local—not to mention the maple syrup!

 

I asked Tom McCrumm about the ice storm in December, which damaged a lot of New England sugar maples. He informed me that his losses were moderately bad. “I lost ten to 15 percent of my taps,” he noted. “I put in a lot of time and labor for cleanup and replacing pipeline. It was a big expense.”

 

Nevertheless, he added, he perseveres. “I did what farmers have done for centuries. You put your head down and plow ahead and hope that next year is going to be better.”

 

Skylar with his Fritters

Skylar with his Fritters

South Face Farm Corn Fritters
 

Ingredients:

 

1 cup flour

3/4 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3/4 cup milk

1 egg

3/4 cup corn—fresh, canned, or frozen (if using frozen, thaw and drain; if canned, just drain)

oil as needed for frying

lots of South Face Farm maple syrup

 

Instructions:

 

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat together the milk and egg. Stir in the corn; then stir in the dry ingredients. The batter will be stiff.

 

Preheat the oil in a deep-fat fryer (or preheat a frying pan with at least a couple of inches of oil) to 350 degrees. Using a small scoop or a spoon, gently place quarter-cup blobs of batter in the oil. Do not overfill your pan; if it is too full the oil will cool off. Do not make larger fritters, or they will not cook through and will be doughy in the center.

 

Cook the fritters in the oil for 6 minutes, gently shaking them from time to time. Carefull remove and drain them. Drizzle maple syrup over the fritters. Makes about 10 fritters.

 

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