Sugar maples. Who would have thought that a simple tree could provide us with one of the most amazing gifts in the whole wide world? I mean, besides paper. Oh, and shelter. Shade. Oxygen.
No, I’m talking about maple syrup. The real stuff. Liquid gold.
Do you ever wonder how the Native Americans figured out that if you make a hole in a tree, sap will come dripping out? (Or are the Pilgrims going to take the credit for that, too?) I have my own theories about this discovery and they involve spontaneous bow and arrow skirmishes between restless adolescent natives who complained that nothing exciting ever happened. Just wait, said the tribal elders. Excitement is on the way. And while you’re waiting, boil that sap.
Sugaring season begins when the weather fluctuates from freezing cold at night to warmer, non-freezing temperatures during the day. The change in pressure causes the sap to flow, usually at the end of February and often through most of the month of March. Here in Massachusetts, the trees are already being tapped, clear sap pooling in galvanized buckets across the state. Sap is about 2% sugar, with water comprising most of the rest of the volume. Evaporators are often used to boil off the excess moisture. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, which explains its price point.
Personally, I grew up on Aunt Jemima Lite. At some point, I graduated to Log Cabin. Once I actually tasted real maple syrup, I found it to be too sweet. Still, I was intrigued enough by the flavor to start mixing one part real maple syrup to one part of the fake stuff in those squeeze bottles you often see at diners. Now I have to take it straight. Four or five shot glasses over pancakes or sweet potatoes. My personal goal is to try out all the different grades to see which one I like best. It takes a while. Those jugs last forever.
So, why would you want to switch from maple-flavored corn syrup to actual pure maple syrup that costs ten times the price during the recession? I don’t really know how to answer that. Like honey, maple syrup is one of the great culinary treasures of the natural world. Sometimes you just have to treat yourself.
Got a jug? Here are some ideas for Maple Month:
Maple walnut bars from The Boastful Baker:
Maple-glazed pork tenderloin from Dinner For a Year:
Maple-glazed salmon with sweet potatoes from Columbus Foodie:
(Note: there’s a real environmental problem with farmed salmon. Here’s a case where local doesn’t necessarily mean better.)
Tammy Donroe can also be found documenting the messy collision between food and life on her blog, Food on the Food.
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