Guest post and photos by Sarah in Boston.
My dad had a way of making the simplest foods into a celebration.
He spent a lot of his free time in his backyard garden, talking to robins and tilling the soil with his trusty hoe. Each garden season was met with great anticipation: the first rhubarb, green onions, beefsteak tomatoes, basketball-sized cabbage heads -- you name it, he grew it.
For each thing he grew, he created a special ritual to enjoy it, something as simple as walking around with a pocketful of salt so he could eat radishes and cucumbers right out of the garden.
He had his special ways of enjoying other foods, too, like red-skinned peanuts and cold, locally made hot dogs. He was very particular about the hot dogs. He would never eat packaged ones raw, but the ones they made at Tom’s Market he ate by the pound. If I close my eyes, I can still see him sitting at the picnic table, listening to the Detroit Tigers on the radio, with a pound of peanuts and a plastic Tupperware tub of hot dogs, watching his garden, and sometimes fiddling with his car.
Another favorite was maple syrup, and of course he created a family ceremony around the annual spring tapping of the sugar maple in our front yard.
The tree didn’t produce enough sap to really make syrup. (It takes about 50 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.) It was more the action of tapping the tree that he loved, and the ceremonial tasting of what he called “maple syrup soup”. The pail would hang on the tree for four or five days, and five or six gallons of sap would flow out. My dad would strain off the debris that fell into the sap pail and boil it for a couple of hours to thicken it to a gallon or so (not as thick as maple syrup).
Then, with his eyes lit up like Christmas, he would produce fresh baked baking powder biscuits. He’d fill our cereal bowls with the syrup "soup", and we would dip the hot biscuits into it.
My sister and I loved it when Dad would pour maple syrup over fresh snow and let it freeze. Sucking on the cold, thin, sweet strips was a sure cure for the cabin fever that set in during long Michigan winters.
Now, though, I prefer to keep maple syrup as a staple in my pantry, and use it in place of sugar. One cup of sugar equals 1-1/2 cups of syrup (add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of maple syrup when you substitute).
I found some great recipe ideas in an old booklet published by the Michigan Maple Syrup Association in 1980. The booklet includes recipes for using maple syrup in cakes, breads, icing, butter, muffins, rolls, custard, cookies, pies, sauce, pudding, baked apples, meats, beans, fondue, dressings, fudge, milkshakes and cocktails -- more than enough reasons to keep maple syrup in the pantry.
Bored with martinis? Here’s something different.
3/4 oz maple syrup
3/4 oz dry gin
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz bourbon
Shake over ice and serve.
Maple nut bread
Adapted from the Michigan Maple Syrup Association booklet. Makes a delicious dessert bread, not too sweet. I like it spread with chèvre (goat cheese).
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a mixing bowl, pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 cup chopped dried cranberries (original recipe calls for dates) and 1 Tbsp butter. Stir until butter melts. Add 1 beaten egg, 1/2 cup maple syrup, and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans).
Sift together 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and 3/4 tsp baking soda. Stir in 1 cup whole wheat flour.
Pour egg mixture into dry ingredients. Stir until just dampened. Pour into greased loaf pan (spray with canola spray, or butter). Bake for one hour. Cool before slicing.
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