Maple Musings (and Maple-Glazed Carrots!)


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.


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.


28 baby carrots
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons sweet butter


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.

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12 Responses to “Maple Musings (and Maple-Glazed Carrots!)”

  1. Jenn says:

    Yum! And it is just starting the maple syrup harvest season!

    I think folk science is the perfect analogy for cooking. I am a chemist myself and am constantly amazed how similar cooking and chemistry are. The difference though is that with cooking, I can express myself – I see it as an art form, where creativity rather than exact measurements and following directions is the main rule. We are all constantly learning and tweaking recipes to make them our own, and no food is properly enjoyed if it is not shared with others!

  2. tinkyweisblat says:

    Well put! Thank you, Jenn!

  3. tinkyweisblat says:

    I love sugar on snow–but it’s one of the few foods in the world that is really too sweet for my digestive system. I like the idea of the sticks, though……….

  4. Shelly says:

    Wow, you have an awesome blog! I have enjoyed reading several of your blog posts tonight and look forward to trying a few of your recipes!

  5. Chris Miller says:

    I love maple glazed carrots! It was the only way I could get my kids to eat carrots when they are little! Now they love them…but ONLY if they are maple glazed!

  6. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thank you so much, Shelly! Stop by any time. I’ll be doing my own key-lime pie next month (I saw one on your blog); maybe we can do a taste-test comparison……….

    As for Chris’s comment, I know the feeling! We served these the other evening to my nephew Michael, and he looked reluctant until we uttered the magic words “maple syrup”…………

  7. Shelly says:

    Do you mind if I add your blog to my list of links on my blog roll?

  8. tinkyweisblat says:

    I’d be honored. Thanks, Shelly!

    Other readers might like to check out Shelly’s blog,

    She’ll guide you through cooking and even buying Tupperware (she’s a gentle but enthusiastic seller)……….

  9. Dick Matthews says:

    Though Pam does most of the creative cooking around our house–and collects recipes as one might pearls– I look forward to your posts as eagerly as she does. Your little “introductions” are a delight, fun to read, and invariably give a lift to my day. The analogy between cooking and folk songs is perfect, and particularly appropriate I think in the context of boiling sap into syrup.

  10. Grad says:

    What a lovely blog. I’ll have to put you in my “Favorites” list. Cooking is one of my big-time passions – along with devouring books. Books are less fattening, but sitting down to read doesn’t burn as many calories as kneading bread. Oh dear. Of course, I could then get on the treadmill, prop the book up, and eat warm bread with butter at the same time. I’ll have to work something out. Anyhow, great blog.

  11. tinkyweisblat says:

    I’m not sure I could handle all the hands involved in your treadmill idea, but I applaud it! I have added your blog, the Curious Reader, to my blogroll; I love connecting books and food!

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