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Maple syrup is sweet story of spring

Maple syrup display at Tops supermarket. (Provided photo ­— ­Yvona Fast)

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

— Benjamin Rush, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson

The maple sugaring season ended weeks ago. This year, due to the global COVID-19 Pandemic, maple producers did not open to the public for tours, tasting samples and pancake breakfasts. But they made lots of syrup — and many products made with it. The gift of the maple doesn’t end with sugaring season; we can enjoy its sweet flavor all year long.

More than 1,200 acres of maple trees are divided between 70 commercial producers in Franklin and Essex counties. Though we missed the fun and camaraderie of maple weekends, we can still support our local maple sugaring operations and buy syrup and products made with our region’s delicious maple. Find them at roadside stands, farmers markets, craft shows, fairs and even grocery stores and supermarkets. If you can’t get out, many producers have web sites where you can order, and they will ship their products right to your home.

Pure maple syrup is a delicious sweetener. In addition to pancakes, you can use it in coffee, put it on oatmeal, bake and cook with it.

In addition to syrup, there are a myriad of locally-maple products to choose from: maple sugar, maple butter, and maple cream, a buttery spread to put on toast or use as a dip. Candied maple confections include maple candy, cotton candy, fudge and maple jelly. Commercial products made with syrup include salad dressings and marinades, mustards, barbecue and grilling sauces granola, maple-coated nuts, pretzels and popcorn.

Beverages

From hot maple latte and maple coffee to cool maple seltzer and soda or maple lemonade or just plain maple water, maple-flavored beverages are growing in popularity. Carbonated maple sap products like seltzer and soda are hitting the market.

Kombucha, beer and wine can all be made with maple syrup instead of sugar. Brandy Brook Maple Farm and Olde Tyme Winery on Brandy Brook Road in Ellenburg Center has been using their own grapes and syrup to craft wines — sweet, semi-sweet or dry; red, white and fruity.

In the kitchen

For great flavor as well as nutritional benefits, substitute syrup for sugar when preparing family meals. Researchers have documented that maple syrup is the most nutritious common sweetener. Scientists at the University of Rhode Island describe the sticky sap as a good source of unique compounds and antioxidants that can improve immunity, reduce inflammation, prevent cancer, and help manage Type 2 diabetes. More than 54 beneficial compounds — antioxidants, polyphenols and other phytochemicals — naturally occur in syrup.

Savory dishes

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, bean salad or rice pudding. It is good with butter to caramelize vegetables.

Sauces, dressings

and marinades

You can find maple-based salad dressings, marinades, granola and candied nuts at local farmers markets, sugarhouses and retailers. But it is easy to make your own creations at home to use when you need them.

Baked goods

From cookies to muffins, sweet breads to pies, maple syrup is delicious in homemade baked goods. To substitute syrup for cane sugar in baking, use one and a half cups of syrup for every cup of sugar, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by half. Add a pinch more of baking soda and decrease the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

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

3-Ingredient Maple Dessert Sauce

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain or Greek yogurt

1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

1/4 cup maple syrup (or to taste)

Pinch salt, optional

Directions:

In jar or bowl, blend together all ingredients with a fork, whisk or immersion blender. Makes enough to top four bowls of berries or fold into 3 cups fresh chopped fruit for a fruit salad. Also use as a topping for muffins or sweetbreads.

Option: for a more savory creamy dressing for a salad of fresh greens, reduce maple syrup to 1 Tablespoon. Add 2 Tablespoons of your favorite prepared mustard, a clove of crushed garlic, and salt & freshly ground pepper to taste.

Maple Roasted Nuts

Ingredients:

2 cups nuts –walnuts, pecans, cashews, peanuts, or almonds

1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

1/4 cup maple syrup

Directions:

In a cast iron or other heavy skillet, toast nuts in a single layer over medium-high heat until they become fragrant and change color, just 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour syrup over the nuts in the hot pan, and stir quickly to coat. Transfer to wax paper or parchment paper. Using a spatula, keep the nuts moving as they cool to prevent sticking. Store in a cool, dry place. Eat as a snack or as a topping for a fruit salad.

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 yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on facebook at words are my world.

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