Posts Tagged ‘Massachusetts Maple Month’

Marching into Spring with Maple

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association

We New Englanders love having four varied seasons. (Or five, if you count mud season!) I wouldn’t trade our climate for the monotonous sunshine of California or Florida. Nevertheless, at some point during the winter I begin to find the gray skies, snow, and ice a bit tiresome.

Fortunately, at just about that point every year maple season arrives. We have just entered Massachusetts Maple Month. I love maple syrup. Its viscous sweetness adds flavors to a wide variety of dishes, from salmon teriyaki to maple pudding.

I also love Maple Month because even when there’s snow on the ground I know the sap is starting to move through the trees, signaling that spring is on its way. Maple is the first local agricultural product of our year, and I welcome it.

I recently asked Winton Pitcoff, the coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, whether he had any idea what kind of season we can expect this year.

He laughed.

“I like that there’s thing about maple,” he replied. “Nobody asks the tomato growers in March what kind of tomatoes we’re going to have.”

He noted that although it is too early in the season to make firm predictions he is optimistic. The sustained cold temperatures in recent weeks and the snow cover in the woods should help the trees “get some rest and charge up from the sap.”

He added that despite some recent years in which the weather has been less than ideal, the state’s maple farmers have steadily increased their capacity to make syrup. “That’s testimony to the skill of our sugarmakers,” stated Pitcoff.

He noted that this year’s sugaring season will be different from usual because of COVID-19.

Last year, the pandemic hit just as sugaring was gearing up. “It was hard,” he recalled. “It was particularly hard for the sugarhouses that have restaurants. But agriculture doesn’t stop. We still had a very good crop. People sold less during the season but sold a lot over the course of the year.”

People’s increasing reliance on home cooking and desire to support local businesses helped fuel the strong sales of the past year, according to Pitcoff.

This year, sugarhouses will again boil syrup, and maple weekend will take place in some form on March 20 and 21. Some restaurants and farms will be open; others may do curbside pickup and/or make appointments to spread visitors out.

Pitcoff recommended that readers check the association’s website or contact their favorite local sugarmakers to see what is planned as the month progresses.

“Each [sugarhouse] is going to do what they’re most comfortable with,” he told me. “We’re trying!”

Meanwhile, he encourages everyone to continue to support this native agricultural enterprise. “There’s nothing more local and regional than maple syrup in New England,” he enthused.

He suggested that all in the state try to develop new-to-us culinary uses for maple syrup, including adding it to coffee or tea instead of sugar.

I did my part by making maple ice cream. It might seem counterintuitive to make ice cream when the temperatures are still cold, but New Englanders eat ice cream copiously all through the year.

The ice cream is only mildly maple flavored; I didn’t want to make it overly sweet. You may always add a little more syrup. I hope this frozen treat pleases your palate this maple month.

Maple Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup maple syrup
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pinch salt

Instructions:

Heat the milk until it is steamy but not boiling. While you are heating it use a separate bowl to whisk together the egg yolks and the syrup until the mixture is thick.

Whisk a bit of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Then whisk more, up to about 1/2 or 3/4 cup.  Whisk the milky egg yolks into the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat until the custard begins to thicken but does not boil (about 2 to 3 minutes on my gas stove).

Remove the custard from the heat and strain it into a heatproof bowl or pot. Cool thoroughly.

When the custard is cold whisk in the cream, vanilla, and salt. Place this mixture in your ice-cream freezer and churn until done. This recipe makes about a quart of ice cream. It’s lovely served with roasted or candied walnuts or pecans on top.

Here I make the ice cream in a video. And I’m also embedding a couple of Saint Patrick’s Day videos for recipes that have appeared previously on this blog, my favorite Irish Soda Bread and my Irish Cheese Fondue.

Enjoy this special day and month!

Tinky Makes Maple Ice Cream

Tinky Makes Irish Soda Bread

Tinky Makes Irish Cheese Fondue

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.