It’s maple season!

Boiling the sap (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

“The gift of the sugar maple trees is from a benevolent Providence.”

— Benjamin Rush, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson.

It’s the end of March — and Maple Season is upon us! Below-freezing nights and above-freezing days are needed for sap to flow up and down the maple trees. When this happens, sap can be gathered and boiled into delicious syrup.

Last weekend was the first of our maple weekends — and this weekend is the second. This is the time that most sugarhouses in our region are open to the public. Many give tours. Others serve pancake breakfasts. Still others offer story time. All have lots of maple products to sample and purchase.

Carrot Salad with Maple Vinaigrette (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

In addition to syrup, there is maple sugar, maple butter, maple candy, cotton candy, and maple cream, a buttery spread to put on toast or use as a dip. Commercial products made with syrup include salad dressings, mustards, barbecue and grilling sauces, granola and maple-coated nuts. Maple water, the by-product of making the syrup by osmosis, is a natural beverage, as is maple sap, which has been viewed as a spring tonic in many cultures. Sap is a great base for brewing coffee or beer. With a home soda maker, sap — which contains about 2 percent sugar — can be made into a carbonated beverage. Sap can also replace water in soups, stews, breads and other dishes. Since you can’t buy sap, you must tap your own trees in order to have this available.

With more than 253,000 gallons of syrup made by 1,500 producers, New York State is the world’s fourth largest supplier of maple products after Canada, Vermont and Maine. (New York Agricultural Statistics Service). The 6 northern counties provide about 35 percent of New York’s syrup. Lewis County, in the eastern Adirondack foothills, generates the most with 120 producers. Here in Essex and Franklin counties, we have more than 1200 acres of maple trees divided between 70 commercial producers.

You can find sugar houses near you and the products and activities they offer on the New York State maple website, nysmaple.com. Our local shops sell many maple products, and area restaurants include maple syrup in their menus.

No matter where you choose to go or how you celebrate the stately maple, you will learn how maple sugar is made. There will be plenty of food — pancakes, waffles or French toast topped with syrup, as well as maple candy and baked goods sweetened with maple. Music, crafts, contests and games add to the festive spirit. Activities for all ages and for the whole family include storytellers, puppets, and wagon rides, so come out and enjoy the sweetness of spring. Of course, each sugar shack offers different activities, so check before you go.

At home, you can also cook with maple. Syrup has many uses besides a topping for pancakes, waffles, French toast or ice cream. It is wonderful in cooking and baking; indeed, during the Civil War, it took the place of sugar in the north.

Maple adds wonderful flavor to savory dishes. Use it as a glaze for ham, chicken or pork. It’s great in bean dishes like ragout, baked beans or bean salad. It is good with butter to caramelize vegetables and makes a great glaze for ham and other meats.

From salad dressings to deserts and meat marinades, syrup makes great sauces. And it’s so easy to make your own. Combine maple syrup with Dijon mustard for a delicious, all-purpose glaze for fish, chicken, pork or vegetables. Add garlic or hot pepper if you like more spice.

You can easily substitute syrup for cane sugar in baking by using one and a half cups of syrup for every cup of sugar, and decreasing the liquid the recipe by half. Add a pinch more of baking soda and decrease the oven temperature by 25 degrees. And try it in other desserts, like rice pudding.

A drizzle of maple syrup makes almost any dish irresistible. Here are some mouth-watering recipes to make with this delicious, healthy, golden syrup.

Carrot Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

Maple Vinaigrette:

3 Tablespoons cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon prepared mustard

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon salt

For the salad:

1/2 small head iceberg lettuce (2 cups, shredded)

2 medium carrots (2 cups, shredded)

2 ribs celery (2 cups, sliced thin

6 green onions

1 cup walnuts

Directions:

Combine vinaigrette ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake well.

Shred lettuce and carrots; thinly slice the celery and green onions. Combine in salad bowl. Shake dressing, pour over and stir well to combine. Set aside for at least an hour, or longer if possible.

Before serving, toast walnuts by spreading on a cookie sheet and toasting in a hot (425) oven for two minutes. Be careful not to burn. Stir walnuts into salad right before serving.

Wholegrain Maple Apple Muffins

Ingredients:

1 large apple

1 egg

1 / 2 cup maple syrup

3 / 4 cup milk

2 Tablespoons melted butter

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 / 2 teaspoon salt

1 large apple

Directions:

Wash apple. Cut in quarters and core, but do not peel. Chop coarsely. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon lemon juice and pour over 1/4 cup of maple syrup.

Preheat oven to 350.

In bowl, beat together the egg, remaining syrup, milk, and butter. Stir in the rolled oats.

In another bowl, combine the flours with baking powder and salt. Stir into the batter. Stir in the apples, spoon into prepared muffin tins, and bake about 20 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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