Food Alchemy: Maple sap is running in a neighborhood near you!
Because I spent so many years in a town whose primary industries were maple sugar, apple butter and sweet corn when it comes to syrup season I'm a serious sap! Indeed, Burton Ohio and the surrounding territories make a big deal out of sugar season and I used to love to wake up to the smell of the woodfires burning in the sugar cabin on the square and the sweet smells that always hung in the air in the months of February and march when the sap would begin to run. Maple syrup is one of natures most perfect sweeteners and always amazes me with it's simplicity. It's a perfect example of food alchemy, take gallons of maple sap, pour them into a condenser, boil them for quite few hours and suddenly you've got golden ,sweet, perfect dense rich ambery maple syrup.
Research has discovered what those of us who are addicted to it have known for years. They've finally labeled it a superfood and for good reasons. Maple syrup has some pretty serious anti -inflammatory and antioxident properties and is high in zinc making it a fabulous slow food tonic for your immune system! For years I've used it as part of my master cleanser which is a delicious lemonade of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and a bit of olive oil. It's a wonderful pickmeup for a system that's sluggish for eating so much heavy winter food!
They've also discovered that maple syrup could be very useful in the fight to stabilize blood sugar, making it a boon for diabetics. I don't know about you but I'd always take a tablespoon full of maple syrup in my coffee over a teaspoon of splenda anyday! It's the one treat that I can give my horse and pony both who have Cushings disease, because it doesn't cause an infammatory response in their bodies, unlike other commercial horse snacks. One maple sugar leaf is a huge treat for them and I notice that after that they're satisfied unlike when I give them a premade treat. It would seem that empty calories do the same thing in all creatures, by giving us a taste that we crave but no depth to the experience. Give me one perfect chunk of maple cream anyday over a candy bar. It's practically a religious experience for meespecially when it's laced with black walnuts!
When we moved from Windesphere, I knew that I would miss experiencing the annual sap run so I do go back every year. However this year I was to get a surprise! I walked out of my house the other day to find that one of my wonderful neighbors had hung sap buckets on all of the maple trees on the street. Now I live on a little brick street in the middle of a fairly busy city so this was definitely a sight that was out of the ordinary. I stood there with tears running down my face, I seriously did. There was something so touching to me about creating this perfect food wherever you could find it and not relegating it to a certain place . I called him immediately..."Phil, you hung sap buckets!". "Yep" he said...I thought that it would be fun to do with the kids. My street has tons of little kids who were about to learn something very important,that you can farm wherever there's land, that you can take the power into your own hands and control your food sources yourself. I thanked him and he promised me a taste of the syrup if he got enough.
Three days later I came home to find my husband grinning from ear to ear. "You just missed Phil and the kids" he said, but there's a present in the refrigerator for you. I opened it up to find a little container of Haagen Dazs ice cream and an adorable little mapleleaf shaped bottle of syrup. I was astonished. More tears and then such an intense joy came over me. I ran down to their house to get a picture of my pals Frances and Griffin with their syrup and of course Phil was eager to tell me all about it. "I was up until three am...I really got to know it, how the sap would boil down and I could tell by the way that it looked if I was close. This batch is too thin, but now I know what to do with the next. Next I'm making cheese. Did I tell you that I love this guy? It just doesn't get much better than that! The syrup is amazing, with a taste that is so fresh and wild and infused with an extra ingredient called love. My first plantings this spring will be sugar maples and maybe some birch trees too. I've got a goal to fill up the whole street with trees so that we can have buckets in front of every house. How amazing would that be?
I use maple syrup for all kinds of things...mixed with bourbon, teriyaki and a bit of olive oil, it becomes a perfect marinade and glaze for fresh fish or chicken. That same marinade with a touch of lemon juice and a wee bit of mustard and fresh garlic makes a perfect salad dressing! Try it baked on a wedge of fresh brie cheese with handfuls of buttery cinnamon toasted walnuts. A bit in my coffee with a touch cardamom and cream is a perfect winters drink, to say nothing of a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup, bourbon and a bit of lemon juices shaken over ice and poured into a cocktail glass. A little known fact is that maple sap over ice with a little bit of lemon juice and agave nectar is one of the healthiest things that you can drink, full of vitamins, minerlas, natural sugars and electrolytes, it's the perfect apre' sports drink and of course who could forget the time honored tradition of maple syrup on snow or hot maple stirs, that simple gift of booiled mple syrup in a bowl with a wooden spoon. You simply stir it quickly until it becomes maple cream....I lived for that treat every year as a child and I can tell you that life doesn't get any better,sweeter or richer than that!
All pictures are mine with the exception of the maple sugar owl which is from the website Pieces of Vermont.