Tuesday, March 16, 2010
An American Tradition of Sweetness
Maple flavored syrup was a familiar breakfast staple on most American tables when I was a child. The tins decorated like log cabins (Log Cabin was the brand, of course) were a favorite toy when emptied of their sticky contents and are considered serious collectables today. I believe that I remember having one with a slot in the lid to be used as a coin bank. In those days we didn’t think to question the container or the nature of the syrup, it simply was. We enjoyed it on biscuits, waffles and my father’s Sunday evening special pancakes, which he called “hotcakes.”
…maple flavored pancake syrup is not at all the same as pure maple syrup.
It was my early interest in natural foods, which led me to realize that maple flavored pancake syrup, is not at all the same as pure maple syrup. Pancake syrup is actually for the most part, corn syrup. I also learned that pure maple syrup is indeed an all natural product without preservatives. This can be an expensive lesson, as the costly authentic syrup will mold and be unfit for consumption if stored for very long at room temperature. This was a problem that we never had to confront in storing the flavored pancake syrup.
White refined sugar was not only rare, but extremely expensive…
The native populations of Northeastern America were well versed in the production of maple sugar, a skill soon learned and improved on by the French and English emigrants. Many tribes of Native Americans returned each year to their ancestral groves specifically to harvest the running sap. Catching sap in birch bark bowls and employing primitive methods of boiling out the water, Indian tribes were able to manufacture the first sugar produced in America. White refined sugar was not only rare but extremely expensive, making the “Indian sugar” somewhat vital to the white settlers.
…40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.
There are many varieties of maple trees, but it is the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) that is the most prized for its delectable sap. Today, the state of Vermont leads in U.S. production of maple syrup, although several other states do produce syrup as well. An estimated half million gallons of pure syrup is produced annually in Vermont. A particularly impressive statistic when you consider that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.
"sugar shacks and sugar bushes”
Maple sap is approximately 98% water and 2% sugar. To produce pure syrup, water content is removed from the sap by “boiling off” to a concentrate of 60% sugar. This is accomplished in what are known as “sugar shacks” or “sugar houses.” The sap itself is obtained by tapping mature maple trees. The groves of maple trees are known as a “sugar bush or sugar bushes.” Tapping does not begin until maple trees are about 40 years old and at least 10 inches in diameter. Interestingly, the process does not damage the trees, although a new tap hole must be made each season. Generally, tapping occurs during the months of January and February. The weather must cooperate by alternating between freezing and thawing to induce the sap to flow.
…enormous amounts of fragrant steam.
The boiling usually begins sometime in March and the season is very short, lasting only 4 to 6 weeks. Traditionally, tapping is achieved by drilling into the trunk of the tree and inserting a tap with a downward angled spout. Buckets are hung on the spout and the running sap fills the buckets. These buckets are then collected and combined in the “sugar house” to begin the extensive boiling process. The sugar house must be well vented to accommodate the enormous amount of fragrant steam. Commercial operations now often employ modern plastic tubing to transport the raw sap to the sugar house, making the process far more efficient, as well as resulting in the freshest and cleanest sap.
…the opportunity to watch maple syrup being made…
The Ninth Annual Vermont Maple Open House Weekend will be held at sugarhouses throughout Vermont, March 26-28, 2010. The Open House Weekend is the public celebration of the maple syrup season in Vermont and an opportunity for the public to visit one or more "sugarhouses" throughout the state. Activities during Open House Weekend will be different at each sugarhouse but will include the opportunity to watch maple syrup being made (weather permitting) and often sample maple products. For more information visit www.vermontmaple.org
…strictly enforced maple grading law…
What makes Vermont maple syrup special? According to The Official Vermont Cookbook, “Vermont has a strictly enforced maple grading law controlling standards of density, flavor and color. The grade of maple syrup must be plainly and correctly marked on each container, along with the name and address of the producer. Vermont’s maple law requires syrup to be free from any preservatives or other additives and this law is enforced by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.”
The Four Vermont Maple Syrup Grades:
Light amber color and a delicate maple bouquet. A mild maple flavor, excellent on foods such as ice cream which permit its subtle flavor to be appreciated.
Grade A Medium Amber
Medium amber color and a pronounced maple bouquet. Characteristic maple flavor, that is popular for table and all around use. Great on pancakes and French toast.
Grade A Dark Amber
Dark amber color and a robust maple bouquet. This hearty maple flavor is very popular for table and all around use. It is often used to add flavor when cooking.
Vermont Grade B
The strongest and darkest grade of maple syrup. Primarily used for cooking and also popular for the table. This grade makes a great substitute for other sugars in baking.
Avanti Savoia’s supplier for this unique treasure is Highland Sugarworks, located deep in the heart of Vermont’s Green Mountains. In addition to their own syrup, they also purchase syrup from other family sugar makers, helping to sustain family owned farms throughout New England.
We have available several choices of these fine products: 100% Grade A Syrup, Vanilla or Cinnamon Infused Grade A, Highland Estates Private Reserve Grade A, Pure Grade B Maple Syrup especially for baking and Natural Granulated Maple Sugar. In addition to these maple syrup products we also offer four delicious pancake mixes. Take a look at all of these items on our website.
Enjoy the wonderful flavor of maple in these recipes courtesy of our friends at Highland Sugarworks.
PURE MAPLE CANDY
Deb Frimodig, Highland Sugarworks
2 cups Fancy Maple Syrup (Grade A Light Amber)
Using a nonstick pot, boil maple syrup to 325, stirring the foam occasionally to prevent boiling over. Remove pot from heat, leaving the thermometer in place. Do not stir after removing from heat. Cool to 175 (approx. 10 min.).
Beat continuously with wooden spoon until syrup until syrup is lighter in color and loses some of its “shine”, approx 3-4 mins. Do not overheat, as this will cause the candy to harden before pouring into molds or pan.
Immediately pour into rubber molds or non-stick 8″ square pan sprayed with Pam. When cool, cut with knife and store up to one month - if it lasts that long!
Simple Maple Soy Marinade
Jim Close, Highland Sugarworks
1 cup Maple Syrup (your choice of grade)
Add soy sauce to your taste
*Great to marinate on chicken or fish
Second Image courtesy of:
Gesse and Mandy at Maple Hill Farm
Photo by Don Lockhart/Perceptions, Inc.