TAP INTO THE PUREST FORM OF THIS FALL FAVORITE BY ANNETTE BROOKS
We had nothing but real maple syrup in the house when I was a kid. Mom scoffed at the idea when my sister and I begged her for the artificial syrups we saw in TV ads. I didn’t realize it then, but eventually, I understood how lucky we were. There’s nothing like pure maple syrup’s sweet, distinctive flavor with hints of caramel and toffee. It’s almost indescribable. Recently, I saw a man pull a small bottle of maple syrup from his pocket and pour it over pancakes at a restaurant, and I thought, “One of my kind!” So, I’m hoping that after reading this article, a few more people will become converts and join team maple!
In the Beginning
Native Americans in Canada and the Northeastern United States discovered maple sugar. One popular legend explains that an Iroquois Chief threw his tomahawk at a sugar maple tree in winter and noticed sweet sap warmed by the sun running from the tree the next day. Another legend credits red squirrels for the discovery. As the story goes, a Native American observed a squirrel climbing a maple tree, biting a branch, and then drinking the sap. Imitating the squirrel, he made a slash in the tree and tasted the sweet sap for himself.
Either way, the practice of collecting maple sugar tree sap and making syrup was adopted by early European settlers. They set up sugar camps where maple trees were plentiful and boiled the sap in iron caldrons to remove water and concentrate the sugar. The rest is history.
From Sap to Syrup to Sugar
Certain species of maples are tapped on the south side of the tree, and a bucket or container is hung from the tap into which the sap drips. A single maple tree can produce five to 15 gallons of sap per season, and it takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of syrup. Once collected, it is boiled down to about 66% sugar, then strained and poured into a bottle. That’s it! No additives, no intensive processing, just pure, wholesome, and utterly delectable maple syrup.
If you want to make maple sugar, cook down maple syrup to reduce water content further, then stir vigorously to form a granulated sugar. To make maple cream, boil some good quality maple syrup to 234°, then slowly stir continuously for around 30 minutes until a thick cream forms. If you’re using a stand mixer to make maple cream, use the paddle attachment and set the mixer to the lowest setting.
Making the Grade
Since 2015, North American maple producers have graded their syrup based on the Standards for Grades of Maple Syrup, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture. There are four grades — Grade A Golden, Grade A Amber, Grade A Dark, and Grade A Very Dark. Each has a different color and taste profile. The darker the syrup, the stronger the maple flavor. The lighter the color, the more delicate the flavor.
A Matter of Preference
Every maple-producing state and each maple sugar farm likes to claim their maple syrup is the best, and people have a proclivity based on their taste. I certainly do. As a pure maple syrup lover since I was knee-high, I splurge on a few bottles of Fuller’s Sugarhouse Reserve maple syrup every year (FullersSugarHouse.com). Based on decades of experience and taste memory, they select one day a year for their Reserve label syrup, which they consider the best-tasting batch. Their standards and integrity are so high that if, primarily due to weather, they can’t clearly distinguish a “best-tasting” batch, they’ll forgo the Reserve label for that year.
Have Fun with a Taste Test
Has your curiosity about 100% pure maple syrup been piqued? Have some family fun with a blindfolded taste test comparing it to “the imitation stuff.” And if you’re hosting a holiday gathering, keep your guests entertained by trying a flight of maple syrup from Golden to Very Dark, and then select the one they prefer to add to a dish or dessert you are serving.
Fuller’s Sugarhouse Maple Bacon Recipe
1 lb. uncooked sliced bacon 2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup 1 Tbsp. dry mustard 1⁄2 Tbsp. Himalayan salt 1⁄4 Tbsp. cayenne pepper 1⁄2 Tbsp. cumin
Preheat oven to 350oF. Wrap a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and top with a wire rack. In a large bowl, add pure maple syrup, pure maple sugar, mustard, salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin. Mix well.
Coat the bacon by dredging it in the maple mixture, then place it in a single layer onto the wire rack. Bake in the center of the oven for approx. 25 – 30 minutes. Check frequently. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the rack. Break into bite-sized pieces. Serve at room temperature.
Chances are you’ll love this so much you’ll regret not making at least two batches!