More Maple – Recipes and Memory

Last week’s maple syrup celebration (pie included) went up in some haste, because I was being rushed by the weather. Day after day the same: sunny and pushing 70 degrees. Not suggestive of syrup season. I felt there was no time to lose.

Then –  what else is new? –  it proceeded to back around so cold the loss seemed more likely to involve  blooming crocus and hellebores, swelling buds of narcissus and hyacinth and early peonies. I spent a lot of time running around with heaps of straw instead of attending to maple posting.

Fortunately, in the event, Friday’s predicted low of 14 did not materialize; almost everything came through ok, and it’s once again March, chilly enough to talk about syrup.

Down East Company Coleslaw – a cabbage-taming touch of maple makes all the difference


would be blamelessly locavoracious  if it weren’t for the pepper(s). It would also be somewhat less interesting, albeit still tasty enough. Up to you.

The dressing and seasonings will seem scant when you first put the slaw together. Sometimes all that’s needed is some sitting time, sometimes tweaking is necessary. A lot depends on the quality of the produce.

For 6 – 8 servings. Recipe may be multiplied; it keeps for 3 or 4 days


2 tbl. peanut oil

½ tsp. each dry mustard, salt and pepper

1 tbl. + 1 tsp. cider vinegar

3 tbl. maple syrup

½ c. whole milk yogurt


7 c. thinly sliced cabbage (about half a 2 lb. head, depending on how much woody, strong core you have to discard. Or  about a quarter head each if you use 2 colors but why not quadruple the recipe and have a party?)

2 large tart apples, peeled and shredded on the coarse holes of the grater

1 small green pepper, cut in small dice, about a cup. Feel free to sub in some jalapeno

Numbered steps not necessary. Whisk the dressing together in a large bowl. Stir in the vegetables, making sure all are coated. Cover and chill for at least three or 4 hours. Stir, taste, adjust, eat.


Once I got going on the maple walnut pie and tart I started wondering what else – besides black walnuts, even better than the English kind – would be good with the maple base. Carrots, perhaps not too surprisingly, were great.

Maple Carrot Tartlet

Apples, perhaps surprisingly, were not. The maple got totally lost.

Nothing wrong with it, just all apple all the time, so why bother?

And wild rice was wonderful, at least in the flavor department.

Maple Wild Rice Tartlet

The rice on top got a little chewy so next time I make that I’ll use a little less rice and put a top crust on.

Important note: As that “next time”  implies,  I haven’t tested the two-crust version yet, nor do I intend to in the immediate future. I’m too fond of being able to get into my pants.

All these tarts are made the same way as the pie (link again here, for your recipe convenience ), with a layer of the fully cooked whatever on the crust, then the maple mixture poured on. This quantity of maple mixture will fill about six 4.5″  inch tarts, depending on the volume of the other ingredient(s).

Baking the tartlets takes a little less time than the big tart or pie, but not by very much. Assume a total of 35 minutes and then start checking at 3 or 4 minute intervals.

For many more recipes, check out  The ABC’s of Maple Syrup, a tour de force of linkage by Amanda Bensen, a maple mad blogger for The Smithsonian who claims it’s all because she’s from Vermont.

Modern Maple Syrup

Our house was once called “ The Maples,” and vintage pictures show a couple of majestic examples right beside the front door, but they were almost all gone by the time we came. Every tappable tree save one was (and is) down at the edge of the property behind the vegetable garden.

No matter, every year as the geese flew calling and windshield-scraping stopped being a major pain, we found new spots in the trees for the taps and tied on the well-used  plastic milk jugs to collect the sap.

Every afternoon after school, Celia would empty the jugs into pails, carefully replace the jugs, then carry the pails up to our outdoor syrup-boiler aka canning kettle on concrete blocks over wood fire. A fresh fire would be lit. After bits of ash stopped flying the kettle lid would be removed.

Eventually, boiling would take place. Not enough to make finished syrup, just enough to make room in the kettle and prevent spoilage of what was there. Then, roughly once a week, boiling would get serious. We’d all stand around worrying and stirring and then triumphantly pouring off our very own home made.

typical backyard sap-collecting device (the plastic bag lid keeps insects and debris out)

Plastic milk jugs lack the poetic beauty of galvanized pails; seeing them doesn’t remotely evoke the sled and the Clydesdales, but what they lack in loveliness they make up for in efficiency and economy, to say nothing of recycling points.

Professionals sometimes use plastic vessels too.

the professional version of bucket-style sap collection

Most of the time, though, what professional syrup makers use is a combination of plastic tubing, the force of  gravity and reverse osmosis, a mechanical sap concentration technique.

Reverse osmosis is best known as a way to desalinate water, but that which can be desalinated can also be de-mapleized, leaving behind a far sweeter liquid that takes much less boiling to be reduced to syrup. The machinery isn’t cheap, but it saves enormous quantities of labor and energy.

plastic tubes carry the sap downhill to the reverse osmosis machine in the little shed. The turquoise tank holds the concentrated result for pickup by the syrup maker.

Syrup Grades and What They Mean

The USDA Grading System is : US Grade A Light Amber, US Grade A Medium Amber, US Grade A Dark Amber, and US Grade B, but grading is voluntary and other terms, like “Fancy Grade” or “No. 1 Light” are also used. Whatever the various grades are called, light color is the gold standard : the paler the syrup, the more delicate the maple flavor and the sweeter the taste.

That’s sweet taste, not sweetness itself. Actual sugar content scarcely varies. If the syrup isn’t at least 66 percent solids (almost all of them sucrose), it will be thin and likely to spoil; if it’s over about 67.5 percent it will start to crystallize.

Dark Amber or Grade B is preferable for cooking because darker syrup has more maple flavor. It would seem that even darker would be even better, but practically speaking Grade B is as low as it goes, even though there is a much darker syrup in the lineup.

That one is Commercial grade, as far as I know a strictly wholesale product. It’s made at the end of the season when quality is starting to decline and is used in maple flavored products like cheap syrup and ice cream. More like a seasoning than a food, Commercial grade can contain off-flavors that would render it inedible if you tried to pour it on your pancakes or bake it into your pie.

Milk jug and forest-of-bucket photos by Bill Bakaitis

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  • The food pics are making me hungry, and I already ate! Homey and real looking.

    Loved the sap collecting pic–nice jug! I’ve seen set-ups with tubes running all over the woods and into tanks, but not to buckets set on the ground. Interesting.

    • Leslie Said,

      Welcome, Nancy –

      So nice to know I managed to make a pro like you hungry! (Got to be eternally grateful to Christopher Hersheimer for making the homey real look OK, way way back in the day.)

      Also glad to know the collecting pics were fun; wouldn’t you know this year the whole drama would be over before I got a chance to do much in the documentation department. The jug is at our neighbor’s house; when we were doing it we never thought to put on those bag lids, which do add a certain je ne sais quoi. Buckets in woods were a new one to me, too. Might be because the ground was too level for tubes(?)

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