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About the Author
Ken Haedrich is the author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including Maple Syrup Cookbook and Home for the Holidays, a winner of the Julia Child Cookbook Award. His articles have appeared in many publications, including Better Homes and Gardens, Cooking Light, and Bon Appétit. He can be found online at thepieacademy.com.
Read an Excerpt
Maple from Tree to Table
Though it is widely believed that the Native Americans were experienced sugarmakers long before European settlers arrived in North America, when and how they learned to make maple syrup is a mystery. A Native American legend has it that there was once a time when sap issued from the maple tree in a nearly pure syrup form, something that a formidable god by the name of Ne-naw-Bozhoo decided to bring to a halt. Anticipating, no doubt correctly, that syrup thus had would be too easily taken for granted, he diluted it with water. Sugarmakers have been boiling the water out of sap ever since, in the pursuit of pure maple syrup.
The Native Americans are likely to have converted most of their maple syrup to maple sugar. Liquid storage vessels were few, and maple sugar was far easier to store and transport. They put their "Indian sugar" into specially made birch bark boxes known as mokuks and carried containers of it to market. Along with these larger blocks of maple sugar, which they sold or traded, the Native Americans made molded sugar candies. The molds were, as one observer noted, "cut from soft wood and greased before the sirup was put into them so that it could easily be taken out. These molds were in [the] shapes of various animals, also of men, and of the moon and stars, originality being sought."
Early settlers in the Americas brought their innovations to the sugar-making art. Foremost among these innovations were iron and copper kettles, which proved to be far less perishable than the wooden and clay troughs the Native Americans used for boiling sap. Early settlers realized that the Native American way of tapping maples — by cutting deep gashes into the bark — not only wasted sap but also injured the trees. So they took to drilling tapholes with an auger.
The settlers further improved sap collection methods when they replaced the Native Americans' birch bark containers with more reliable ones fashioned from ash or basswood trees. The large trunk sections of these trees were cut to length, halved, and then hollowed out into crude troughs. Over time, these clumsy troughs were replaced by buckets and, finally, by hanging buckets hung by metal spikes. The spikes were superseded by modern taps made to support the weight of the bucket or tubing.
The Native Americans boiled sap by dropping red-hot stones into wooden dugout troughs where the sap was held. And weather permitting, they would also remove water from sap by freezing instead of boiling. The water would rise to the top of the troughs and freeze, leaving unfrozen, concentrated sap below. The large cauldrons brought by the settlers were more efficient for boiling than the wooden troughs. In the kettle method of boiling, a large cauldron was suspended over a blazing fire, supported by a pole frame. Sometimes a series of kettles was used and the sugarmakers ladled the partially evaporated sap from one kettle to the next. In this way, syrup could be made on a continuous basis.
When you stop to consider the laborious nature of sugar making against the rigorous backdrop of pioneer life, you might wonder why the early settlers even made the effort. Were there no alternatives?
There were alternative sweeteners, actually — honey being one. In fact, honeybees had been imported from Italy as early as 1630. But beekeepers were few in the colonies, and honey was relatively rare and would remain so for years to come.
Molasses, on the other hand, was abundant and soon began arriving from West Indian sugar plantations. (Sugar itself, of which molasses is a by-product, was still prohibitively expensive.) But molasses was a thorn in the side of the settlers, not just because of the high cost of transporting it from the coast by packhorse, but also because the molasses trade supported slavery in the most direct way. "Make your own sugar," advised the Farmer's Almanac in 1803, "and send not to the Indies for it. Feast not on the toil, pain and misery of the wretched."
Today, of course, maple products account for but a small fraction of the sweeteners used in the United States. However, just a hundred years ago or so — at least in the Northeastern part of the country — maple ranked first among the sweeteners. Whereas a century ago, 90 percent of the maple crop was converted to maple sugar, today only a small amount is, since most consumers buy maple primarily in syrup form for pancakes and waffles. Nonetheless, maple syrup, as more cooks are discovering every year, can indeed play a leading role in the modern kitchen.
Modern Maple Production
In some respects, very little about the process of making maple syrup has changed over time. Today, of course, sugarmakers have at their disposal a number of time-saving and laborsaving innovations, from plastic tubing to reverse-osmosis machines. But these inroads only hasten the transition from sap to syrup; in no way do they diminish maple's magic. The flavor, quality, and wholesome goodness of maple syrup have, if anything, improved over the years. And in an age when so many of our comestibles are nothing more than machine-made synthetics, maple syrup remains an oasis of purity, still made on the farm by men and women whose connection with the earth is part of their daily lives.
Maple syrup is produced in the Northeastern and upper Midwestern parts of the United States and in adjacent sections of Canada, covering a select area from Maine as far south as West Virginia and west to Minnesota. Though the range of Acer saccarum and Acer nigrum, the two principal sugar maples, extends beyond this area, the unique combination of altitude, soil conditions, and weather patterns necessary for maple syrup production — freezing nights followed by warm, above-freezing days — does not. The Europeans, who have the trees but not the weather patterns, have tried without success to manufacture maple syrup on their own turf.
Folk wisdom has it that when the frogs begin to sing, or spring peepers can be heard at night, spring is imminent. So, many sugarmakers call the last batch of sap that flows a "frog run."
Maple sap is a clear liquid containing nutrients from the soil and organic substances manufactured by the leaves. It tastes somewhat sweet, with a sugar content averaging 2 to 3 percent, though the percentage can run as high as 6 percent, varying from tree to tree, from sugar bush to sugar bush, from one week to the next and from one year to the next. The sugar in the maple sap is synthesized by the leaves and stored in the tree as starch. This starch is the food of the plant, and in fall and spring, with the further action of sunlight, it is converted into sucrose and, in turn, to invert sugar in which the sucrose is broken down into glucose and fructose.
The Sugar Moon
Sugaring season begins as early as January and often extends well into April. The Native Americans, for whom this was a season of celebration, referred to this period as "the sugar moon." Sap does not flow in freezing weather, but as the warmer days of late winter return, the sap begins to move with vigor and sugarmakers set out their taps.
Tapholes are usually bored 2 to 2 ½ inches deep, with a 7/16-inch bit. A bit and brace are sometimes used, but more common today is the automatic drill. Tapholes are drilled on a slight downward path to facilitate the flow of sap, and they are located anywhere from about 3 to 5 feet off the ground. Not just any sugar maple tree can, or should, be tapped. Those trees, for instance, yielding a sap with a sugar content of 1 percent are not considered economically worthwhile because of their low syrup yields, and therefore are often culled.
Opinions vary, but conventional wisdom maintains that trees selected for tapping should have a minimum diameter of 12 inches, 4 ½ feet from the ground. As the diameter increases, so may the number of taps, at the rate of one tap for each 10-inch increase. Since tapping subjects the maple tree to stress, many experienced sugarmakers strongly recommend not exceeding three taps per tree, no matter how large the tree is.
Into every taphole a spout, or spile, is driven. All spouts have a tapered "shoulder" — the part that goes into the tree — in order to form a tight, leak-proof seal with the bark and outer sapwood. Through the spout the sap flows, either into a sap bucket hung directly on the spout or into plastic tubing.
The standard sap bucket today is a 15-quart, galvanized metal container. It has a cover to keep out rain and assorted detritus. Sap buckets are emptied by hand and poured into a central, and usually portable, collection tank. Manual sap collection is a slow, labor- intensive activity, and accounts, according to one source, for as much as one-third of the cost of syrup production.
The advent of plastic tubing has dramatically changed sap collection methods, and most large maple operations have made the switch from buckets to tubing. Tubing is not a perfect solution — squirrels nibble on it, moose trample through it, tree limbs fall on it, and careful cleaning is required. But it has eliminated much of the drudgery associated with manual sap collection. With tubing, one no longer needs to build roads or paths, often through inhospitable terrain, to gather sap. Tubing is light and easy to carry. And it allows for a continuous flow of sap to the sugarhouse or to roadside storage tanks.
Maple Syrup: The Real Thing
Maple syrup is syrup made by the evaporation of maple sap or by the solution of maple sugar, and contains not more than approximately 33 to 35 percent water. That, by definition, is the real thing.
Then, of course, there's the imitation maple syrup, sometimes called pancake syrup, that is sold by several national food companies. Imitation maple syrup is mostly corn syrup and perhaps contains 2 or 3 percent of the real thing. For the purposes of this book, when I say maple syrup I'm referring to pure, genuine, 100 percent maple syrup. If there is any question in your mind as to whether you are buying real syrup, read the packaging carefully.
Real maple syrup is indeed nothing more than 100 percent boiled sap, but other substances may find their way into the finished product. Generally, these substances are found only in trace amounts and are the result of standard maple syrup production practices. In all likelihood you'll never be aware of their presence. Very rarely have producers been found to intentionally adulterate their maple syrup with corn syrup or other liquid sugars. If you suspect the syrup you've bought has been adulterated, contact the Department of Agriculture in the state where the syrup was purchased.
Whether collected by bucket or fed by plastic tubing, all sap eventually finds its way to the sugarhouse to be boiled down to syrup. The typical modern sugarhouse is apt to have one or more large sap storage tanks, a wood-fired or oil-fired evaporator for boiling the sap, a finishing pan for completing the boiling, some type of filtering system, bulk storage barrels for storing the finished syrup, and a storage area for packaged syrup. Depending on the sophistication of the operation, you may also find a reverse-osmosis machine, which removes up to 60 percent of the water content before the sap reaches the evaporator, and a specially equipped kitchen for the manufacture of maple sugar candies.
The backbone of the sugarhouse is the evaporator, essentially a large pan used for boiling water from the sap. Evaporators have come a long way since the wooden troughs used by the Native Americans. The modern evaporator was introduced in about 1900, and its advantages over its flat-bottomed predecessor are significant. Flues beneath the pan not only trap heat and increase fuel efficiency but also provide a greater heating surface, therefore increasing the rate of evaporation.
The typical evaporator is a two-pan affair supported by a heavy metal frame called an arch. From the storage tanks, the sap enters the back or sap pan, the larger of the two pans, where the boiling process begins. Great plumes of steam soon rise from the evaporator as the water is boiled out of the sap. Many evaporators have a hood directly over the sap pan, enclosing a bank of pipes where incoming sap is preheated, which further speeds up the rate of evaporation.
Concentrated sap flows down the back pan and enters by a connecting pipe into the front or syrup pan, located over the firebox. The syrup pan is where the final or nearly final stage of boiling takes place. As it gets closer and closer to finished density, the sap in the syrup pan moves through a series of baffles toward a draw-off valve. The purpose of the baffles is to guard against the constant intermixing of saps of different densities, so syrup can be drawn off on a continuous basis, instead of in one large batch. The result is higher-grade yields of syrup.
Before returning maple syrup to the refrigerator, rinse the cap in hot water and wipe the top of the jug so the cap will be easier to remove the next time.
Experienced sugarmakers can tell by sight — judging by the color and the look of the bubbles in the syrup pan — when the syrup is ready to be drawn off. They'll dip a paddle or scoop into the pan, lift it up, and check to see whether the syrup "sheets" or "aprons" off the paddle in the fashion that indicates the syrup point has been reached. The precise tests for doneness, however, are based on readings from precision instruments.
Sap becomes syrup at 7 to 7.1°F/4°C above the boiling point of water. At sea level, water will boil at 212°F/100°C. For every 550-foot increase in elevation, the boiling point drops by 1°F/0.6°C. The correct temperature at which sap becomes syrup, therefore, varies with the location of the sugarhouse and to some degree with barometric pressure, which can also affect the exact boiling point. With late-winter weather conditions in maple country anything but stable — Mark Twain once commented that if you don't like our weather here in New England, just wait a minute — sugarmakers will regularly recheck the boiling point, even within the same day.
While an accurate temperature reading is an important guide to finished syrup, maple syrup produced for sale must be checked for proper density with a hydrometer. At room temperature, the standard density of syrup is 66° Brix, Brix being a scale sugarmakers and others use for measuring the percentage of sugar in liquid. A precise reading is important. Syrup with a density just a little below this level will taste thin and watery; a little above, and the syrup may become crystallized in storage. Because this finishing of syrup to just the right density is such an important step in the making of syrup, many sugarmakers transfer near syrup to a special finishing pan, where this step can be carefully controlled, instead of completing the boiling process in the evaporator.
Once the syrup has been filtered to remove crystallized minerals, it is graded and hot-packed to prevent the growth of mold. Syrup is packaged by liquid measure into standard-size containers, usually made of plastic or metal. The maple syrup, which by now has been reduced from as much as 40 parts of sap, is ready for trading and sale.
Grading and Tasting
Maple syrup grading is based on a syrup's color and flavor. Some of the factors that account for a syrup's grade are the sugar content of the sap, how quickly and at what point in the season it was collected and boiled, and the rate of evaporation. As a general rule, the lighter syrup grades are produced early in the season, when the weather is colder, and the darker shades develop later in the season.
For more than ten years, an organization known as the International Maple Syrup Institute — a group made up of maple syrup producers, packers, equipment makers, and other industry leaders — has been laying the groundwork for standardizing maple syrup grades across borders. Those standards have already been adopted in a number of maple-producing areas, are pending in others, and — in all likelihood — will be universally accepted within the next few years.
The intent of this initiative has been to eliminate the patchwork of grading systems that have often confused consumers and replace them with a single, unified system featuring color and flavor descriptors to give buyers a better idea of what they're actually getting.
For instance, under the old system of grading, Vermont produced a Fancy Grade, which other states called Grade A Light Amber and in Canada was known as Canada No. 1 Extra Light. Under the new system, the equivalent grade of maple syrup will be known, universally, as Grade A Golden Color, Delicate Taste.
Excerpted from "Maple Syrup Cookbook"
Copyright © 2015 Ken Haedrich.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Marion Cunningham
1. Maple from Tree to Table
Modern Maple Production
Grading and Tasting
Maple in the Kitchen
2. Maple Mornings
3. Beyond Breakfast
Soups & Starters
Salads & Sauces
Vegetables & Sides
4. Maple Sweets
Bars, Cookies & Candy
Pies & Cakes
Puddings & More
Converting Recipe Measurements to Metric
Maple Producers & Organizations
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Title: Maple Syrup Cookbook - Over 100 Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Author: Ken Haedrich and Marion Cunningham Published: 12-29-15 Publisher: Storey Publishing Pages: 192 Genre: Food & Wine Sub Genre: Cooking; Brunch & Tea; Main Courses; Side Dishes; Special Occasions ISBN: 9781612126647 ASIN: B00Z8CZOLK Reviewer: DelAnne Reviewed For: NetGalley . Maple syrup is not used only to top you pancakes and waffles any more. The Maple Syrup Cookbook offers some really versatile recipes. Take the Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts, which are a vegetable I used to hide in my napkin for later disposal when I was much younger, now I just make them for my family and place them far from my plate. I made the Glazed Maple Brussels Sprout for dinner to try on my family. They raved over them so much I tried one, then two, then two more and they were all gone otherwise I would have had more. They are still not my first choice for a vegetable, but I will make the again in the future and indulge in a few. This is the only recipe I have tried so far, but there are some that will be gracing my table soon. As the title there are over 100 recipes so there is bound to be something to tempt your taste buds. A great cookbook for those of us who love the flavor of maple and want to expand beyond breakfast uses.