We are all familiar with maple syrup. And most of us know that maple trees don’t exude syrup, but sap, which is thin, clear, and only faintly sweet. The liquid must be reduced to become syrup, and in fact it can be further reduced to become pure crystalline maple sugar. So while we are all acquainted with a certain concentration of maple syrup – the one on grocery store shelves and brunch tables – there is actually a broad spectrum of products that can be made with maple.
Let’s look at the two extremes of the maple continuum.
Chilled Maple Sap
An amazing but subtle tasting experience, one that I appreciate more in lean years when the sap run … Continue reading.
Last week I tapped my maple trees, and since then I have collected about one teaspoon of sap from the buckets.
I recently learned that the spring sap run is a completely separate phenomenon from the normal transportation of water and nutrients through the stems of the maple during the growing season. That transportation is going to happen no matter what. The sap run, on the other hand, might not, as it requires a very specific set of circumstances, and is not a biologically necessary phenomenon from the tree’s standpoint.
Before we tackle the question of why sap runs, we need some background info on maples.
Why Maple Sap Contains Sucrose in the First Place
During the summer the leaves … Continue reading.
Last year I tapped two maple trees in my backyard. I got more than 40 L of sap, most of which was reduced to make about 1.5 L of syrup. There’s a complete summary of the adventure here.
Last year my first day of sap collection was April 2.
Yesterday, March 7, I was in my backyard. It was warm and sunny. I had to squint because of the sunlight coming off the snow. There was a steady stream of water rolling through my eavestroughs. It felt exactly like April of last year, and it crossed my mind that the sap could be running at that very moment.
This morning I tapped my two trees, as well as a … Continue reading.
Last night was Pancake Tuesday, the appropriately subdued Canadian version of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.
I want to tell you about my pancakes.
Pancake styles occupy one point on a continuum between slack batters and stiff batters. Slack, or high-liquid, batters make thin, soft, limp pancakes the size of dinner plates. Stiff, or low-liquid, batters, yield thicker, cakey pancakes the size of tea saucers or smaller. For home-cooking I favour the stiff variety, making a batter that is barely, barely pourable. The resulting cakes are more dense, but still soft and moist. They develop a delicate, crisp exterior during frying, something that the slack batters can’t do because of their high liquid content.
In the … Continue reading.
I just had my mind blown. While Lisa and I were collecting sap from our maple trees, Judy was doing the same from a birch tree in her backyard in Spruce Grove. She just brought over some of her birch syrup. I had a spoonful. I’m reeling.
I mentioned that our maple syrup has a distinct fruitiness that I’ve never come across in commercial syrup. Judy’s birch syrup tastes like fruit juice – like pear juice, I would say – and it finishes with some of the green, nutty flavour of the fresh sap.
The birch syrup is very thin, nowhere near as thick and sticky as store-bought syrup. The flavour is remarkable. I don’t know exactly how I’ll … Continue reading.
This is one of my favourite ways to showcase my maple syrup. A simple oat cake is baked, then cut into squares and cooled. The baking dish is then filled with hot maple syrup, which the cake soaks up like a sponge. Essentially a lazy man’s pouding chômeur (a lazy man’s poor man’s pudding?)
Oat Cake in Maple Syrup
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 1/4 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
For the soaking syrup:
- 2 cups maple syrup
- 2 cups
… Continue reading.
Even though maple syrup is popularly described as a “Canadian” ingredient, I consider it a highly regional specialty within Canada, as it’s only made on a large scale in Eastern Ontario and Quebec. In contrast to the sugar maples that grow down east, the maple trees around Edmonton produce less, and less sweet, sap. Birch and elm can also be tapped for sap, but they have even lower yields.
These facts notwithstanding, I have a perverse obsession with maple syrup (one of my favourite desserts of all time is pouding chômeur) as well as an abstract, academic nostalgia for the ingredient. Granulated sugar is one of the few highly refined products that I use regularly, and I’m interested in … Continue reading.