Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sugaring Time

 While we were trimming fruit trees and cutting trees in the timber this week, we noticed that the sap was starting to rise. This is always a sure sign that spring is on its way, but in many parts of the country it also means that sugaring time is here, the start of the maple syrup season.
Full disclosure: I am a maple syrup junkie! I love real maple syrup the way some people love high quality wine or olive oil. For those of you who are unaware, I am not talking about those plastic bottles of pancake syrup with the "Hot" indicator built into the lable, or, heaven forbid, that scary woman-shaped bottle. Blech! Take a look at the ingredient lists on one of those bottles sometime, that's truly frightening! No, I'm talking about good, rich, all-natural (preferable Grade B) maple syrup.

During the winter, I eat maple syrup on my steel-cut oatmeal every morning. And this morning, I opened my last quart (yes QUART) of real maple syrup. This bottle is a special treat because it was a gift from our dear friend Diann, brought back from her travels in Minnesota. The syrup that I just finished was a local syrup from northwestern Iowa and it was very nice. But this Minnesota syrup from Wild Country Maple Syrup is marvelous, dark and rich, I could just about drink it straight. This is what maple syrup should be!

Since I'm a storyteller by habit and profession, I have to share my syrup story...

When I was young I was in love with the Little House on the Prairie books. I had them all and read them over and over (I know, total dork!). I wanted to live that life, and now to small degree, I do. But regardless, I loved all the small daily details about their lives and one day after a storm that provided us with a snow day, I recalled a particular story in one of the books about making maple candy in the clean snow after a storm. I had to try it! So I followed the description of the process in the book as closely as possible, pouring some of our syrup into a pan and heating it to a boil on the stove (I'm sure I had permission to use the stove, Mom). Then I took the hot pan outside and carefully poured the syrup in swirls onto the clean snow.
To my total disappointment, the slightly cooled syrup melted right through the deep snow and disappeared into the ground.  I couldn't imagine what had happened, why hadn't it worked?

It was only recently that I remembered that whole experiment and realized that what failed wasn't my process...it was my syrup. We lived in middle-class Iowa, we didn't use real maple syrup, we used the aforementioned pancake syrup, just like everyone else in our neighborhood.  I don't really remember when I realized there was an alternative, but the first time that I consciously tried the real stuff, that was it. I was hooked and I never looked back.

Now that I have that story back in my memory, I'm waiting for a nice deep, fresh snowfall so I can try the maple syrup candy experiment again. If you've tried it, let me know how it worked for you. If you want to try it, just remember... substitutions are not acceptible and corn syrup with maple flavoring is NOT the same as maple syrup. Get yourself some real maple syrup, Grade B, if possible and have yourself a real treat!
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