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Sugaring is never that far off
December 4, 2010 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Old man winter has arrived. That means sugaring season and maple syrup (pdf) production is not that far away. Creamed, crystalized or liquid, there are treats for everyone. Previously
posted by woodjockey (25 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
My favorite scenes from the Little House books were the gatherings around sugaring. Man... what I wouldn't give for a pattypan of maple sugar candy.
posted by kimdog at 5:01 PM on December 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I dunno, man. I associated sugaring with the /end/ of winter, not the very beginning of the hardest part.

I guess it's only a few months off, but those are the months nearest to spring, which seems pretty darn far away from my perspective in the higher northern latitudes.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:01 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


One thing I've always wanted to try: eggs poached in maple syrup.
posted by No Robots at 5:20 PM on December 4, 2010


This is a religious moment for some of us.
posted by theredpen at 5:24 PM on December 4, 2010


As a New Englander (and Canadian Maritimer) on one side of my family now resident in Québec, I find it typical of the American tendency to subconsciously think of the US as the whole world to focus on New England (mainly Vermont) syrup as the archetypal maple syrup.

Even I, born in Europe to a fairly cosmopolitan and wider world-aware family, didn't become aware that Québec produces 75% of the world supply (see page 9 of the PDF) until a few years ago - and that despite the fact that if you look closely at a lot of the syrup sold around the US, it's labelled as a product of Canada. (Conversely, I note that in that USDA document that they leave out Rhode Island entirely, despite the fact that there is production in the far north of that state - I once brought some to an amie Québecoise in a coals-to-Newcastle gesture.)

You haven't truly experienced sugaring season 'til you've gone to a cabane à sucre in Québec - a somewhat cornball feast with syrup poured on everything, your hosts hamming it up in a French version of "we're jes simple country folk!" and fiddlin' folk music (quite similar to Appalachian Scots-Irish pre-bluegrass.)
posted by Philofacts at 5:54 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who puts maple syrup on almost every thing he eats, rice, potatoes, and all meats served. his favorite is maple syrup ice cream
posted by tustinrick at 5:56 PM on December 4, 2010


No Robots: One thing I've always wanted to try: eggs poached in maple syrup.

OMG - it's the best thing ever. My kids have always eaten their eggs swimming in maple syrup. I guess it helps that we live in Vermont where there's tons of the stuff. YUM!!
posted by garnetgirl at 5:58 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was recently in Vermont visiting family and I went into a liquor store. There was like 7 or 8 kinds of maple liquors. I love maple syrup on my pancakes, but I'm not sure I want to do shots of it.
posted by jonmc at 6:19 PM on December 4, 2010


I was recently in Vermont visiting family and I went into a liquor store. There was like 7 or 8 kinds of maple liquors. I love maple syrup on my pancakes, but I'm not sure I want to do shots of it.

Likewise. We have that here too, even in some fairly sophisticated forms, just as there's also various hard apple ciders and wines, but while I'll go for the latter when it's well made, the particular flavour that is maple just doesn't translate for me. It'd be like trying to make liquor out of cloves or something. It needs some contrasting food flavour to balance it - which is why it works on eggs, meat, etc., as well as pancakes and cereal.

But where's there's a sugary liquid, people will make liquors. And if there's a market for ouzo, I suppose there's one for maple liquor.

(btw, maple syrup combined with mustard, added to a simple vinaigrette, is a great salad dressing - something a Rhode Island friend turned me onto back in HS.)
posted by Philofacts at 6:54 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


In one of the Little House books they talk about making maple candy by pouring maple syrup on snow. I've tried that over and over, but never got it to work.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 7:32 PM on December 4, 2010


Uh, Quebec is also 50 times larger than Vermont. So, not shocking that they produce more maple syrup. (And ours is better, nyah.)

And yes, maple sap is harvested in the "spring" when temperatures are warm during the day and cold at night, usually March-ish.
posted by maryr at 7:35 PM on December 4, 2010


Betty - Did you boil off more of the water first? I presume you've have to take it to the firm ball stage.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:53 PM on December 4, 2010


Yes, to do tire d'érable on snow you use maple taffy not maple syrup!
posted by Marquis at 11:06 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


They don't make for bad metronomes, either.
posted by The White Hat at 6:29 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


When N.A. AskMe business people/exchange students are wondering what they could take as gifts to people in foreign places, I always recommend Maple sugar candy. It's a local product, easy to carry-on without being a liquid, it's easy for everyone to share, tastes wonderful.

I wish we actually were a little bit closer to the season.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:15 AM on December 5, 2010


A friend of mine has a sugar shack in Connecticut. I should visit them in a few months.
posted by zippy at 10:00 AM on December 5, 2010


Uh, Quebec is also 50 times larger than Vermont. So, not shocking that they produce more maple syrup. (And ours is better, nyah.)

Well of course it's bigger, though the range of maple trees is only a fraction of the size of the province. My point is not to note that it's shocking that they produce more, but that the first thing Americans think of when they think of maple syrup is the (distantly) second place Vermont (which is way ahead of Ontario, though!) rather than the primary producer, which doesn't even enter into their consciousness. It's a bit like talking about European wine production and thinking of Germany or Portugal rather than France - and sometimes not even being aware that France exists. (I have no idea what the relative rankings by volume are for wine... But I think it's safe to say that France is near or at the top of places anyone in the world thinks of when they think of European wine.) I still feel a bit ashamed that I grew up a large part of my life in New England and was barely aware of its next door neighbour Québec, much less any details about it. But the US border is like a one-way mirror - Canadians see into the US, perhaps more than they want to, but the US only sees itself.

The proportion of Vermont syrup that's top quality may be higher, I don't know, haven't seen rankings by grade and/or any taste test findings. And the matter of Grade A (lightest colour) syrup being the "best" is a matter of opinion; for cooking I often prefer the darker Grade B - more flavour.
posted by Philofacts at 12:52 PM on December 5, 2010


Last winter, our sugar-on-snow wasn't right, I think because I boiled it too much. It's supposed to be chewy, and mine was, well, sugary. Shouldn't have been using a meat thermometer.

The donut is optional, but the pickle is required.
posted by vortex genie 2 at 1:17 PM on December 5, 2010


Heh, I don't know if the fact that Italy produces the most volume of wine in any given year strengthens your point.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:07 PM on December 5, 2010


Oh snap. Wikipedia suggests that maple syrup in Canada doesn't have to be entirely maple? "Maple syrup is graded according to the Canada, US or Vermont scales based on its density and translucency. Syrups must be at least 66 percent sugar to qualify as "maple syrup" in Canada; in the US, any syrup not made almost entirely from maple sap cannot be labeled as "maple"."

Points to Quebec, however, for this: "Québécois sometimes refer to imitation maple syrup as sirop de poteau ("pole syrup"), a joke referring to the syrup as having been made by tapping telephone poles." That is great!

(And yeah, I know you can't make maple syrup in Hudson Bay. I was just too lazy to figure out what percent of the province would work. Certainly an area far larger than VT.)
posted by maryr at 10:20 PM on December 5, 2010


"Maple syrup is graded according to the Canada, US or Vermont scales based on its density and translucency. Syrups must be at least 66 percent sugar to qualify as "maple syrup" in Canada; in the US, any syrup not made almost entirely from maple sap cannot be labeled as "maple"."

The ref to 66 percent is a ref to the density of the maple syrup - how much maple sugar relative to the liquid - not to the amount of maple syrup vs. some other sugar suspended in water. It's to keep under-concentrated (I'd say "watered-down", except that that would imply adding water rather than not removing enough in the first place) maple syrup from being sold; a way to ensure that the sugaring process boils the syrup down enough. (I was intrigued by the reference to an alternate method of concentrating the sap: by freezing it in an open bucket and removing the layer of ice on top. I'd think this might result in a better flavour than the usual heating method, although it's probably a lot more labour-intensive. This sounds similar in effect to ice wine, although I'm not aware of anyone seizing the marketing opportunity to sell "ice maple" at a premium.)

Whoever wrote that description of standards was probably not an English major*; the two clauses of the second sentence are about two different things, not about a comparison of differing standards of the same thing between countries. The first describes how concentrated the syrup needs to be at minimum at the end of the sugaring process (lighter grade A is closer to that minimum, darker grades would be more concentrated, i.e., a higher proportion of sugar to water, although I suspect that after a certain threshold, a certain longer time being boiled, the flavour would begin to suffer from the heating); the second proscribes the adulterating of the syrup with any non-maple syrup. (The "almost entirely" makes me wonder whether the US law allows a little bit of something else, and how much... and who lobbied to get that modifier into the regs.)

The first sentence implies that the scales by which concentration is measured are different between the two countries, and further, between Vermont and other US states. (I wouldn't be surprised if the state which sent Bernie Sanders, Pat Leahy and James Jeffords to Congress had a higher minimum standard. I love Vermont. :-) Again, hard data needed.

(*No, I'm not an English major, either - I'm a musician - though I come from a long line of English & philosophy majors and journalists (e.g., my grandfather was managing editor of a major national weekly magazine), I got the highest Verbal SAT score in my HS class, and I just completed my second BA, in philosophy, which tends to require precision and clarity in language use - certain forms of post-modernism excepted.)

btw, I suspected Italy might surpass France in wine volume, but my point was about awareness and the odd phenomenon of a relatively minor producer being the go-to example. Overall, around the world, whenever European wine is mentioned, I think it's safe to say that France is the example that pops to mind first and foremost, Italy at least close if not tied (I'm sure the Italians grumble about inadequate recognition of their #1 status by volume); but certainly not Spain, Portugal, Greece or Germany.

And the maple area of Québec is perhaps several but not many times greater than Vermont's. I've been up north a bit and the maples thin out pretty quickly. (Lots of birches and conifers, though!) That might change with global warming, if the trees can migrate fast enough and the soils up north are good enough. (The latter, unfortunately, is unlikely: the St. Lawrence valley and its surrounding hills and mountains are far more fertile than the rest of Québec. Hence the concentration of the population there.) One of the tragedies of southern New England is the increasing disappearance of sugar maples. I guess we should enjoy our syrup for however many generations it has left.
posted by Philofacts at 2:20 AM on December 6, 2010


I love maple syrup on my pancakes, but I'm not sure I want to do shots of it.

Well, duh. It should be slowly sipped, not shot.

OK, I'm being a bit disingenious in that I'm talking about maple syrup here and not the maple syrup liquor which the quoted sentence was referring to. But other than that I'm serious.

I once finished a spicy meal and was looking around for something sweet with which to end the meal. But I didn't have any dessert-type foods in my kitchen. And then, rummaging through the cupboards, I found I had some good-quality maple syrup. "Huh," I said, took out a shot glass, poured myself a shot of maple syrup and sipped at it over the next ten minutes or so. It was glorious. I recommend it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:21 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I once finished a spicy meal and was looking around for something sweet with which to end the meal.

That's an excellent example of balancing flavours in a meal! Perhaps some Indo-fusion cuisine place should incorporate maple syrup into the mix - better than that sickly-sweet gulab jamun dessert...
posted by Philofacts at 5:25 PM on December 6, 2010


Gulab jamun is okay if it's been prepared just in time rather than sitting around for an hour in a chafing dish. Like Loukoumades, Bamieh or funnel cake, it's got that balance of fatty fried goodness and sweet syrup. Maple syrup is starting to become more popular in Asian markets, so you may get your wish on the fusion cuisine.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:13 PM on December 8, 2010


One reason syrup has to be boiled to a certain consistency is that it won't keep if it's too watery. It gets moldy.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:18 AM on December 9, 2010


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