'Happy Maple Syrup Season!' by Chef Kyleigh Beach
I always associated maple syrup with fall and winter – drizzled on top of steaming oatmeal, glazed over roasted root vegetables and holiday hams, whipped into a cream cheese icing for pumpkin cupcakes – but maple syrup season is actually early spring. All the images of people tapping leafless maple trees and hauling sap buckets in the snow lead one to believe this work is done in the winter, but it’s really just that cold way up in Vermont and Quebec. As the weather gets a little warmer, sugar stored in the roots of the maple tree creeps up through the trunk to cultivate new spring buds. When the temperature drops at night, sugar and water are vacuumed way up into the trunk when it constricts. The next day it warms up again and the sap makes its way back down the trunk into a waiting bucket to be collected and boiled into maple syrup. It takes an astonishing 40 gallons of sap to yield 1 gallon of syrup. Now you know why true, high quality maple syrup is so expensive.
Maple syrup season is fast and furious with maybe only a few weeks to collect and boil sap. I assume maplers, as they’re called, get the energy needed to boil through the night by eating vast quantities of the stuff. Turns out there are more options than I thought. This year I was introduced to maple vinegar, which is really extraordinary. It is made by fermenting the dregs that are left in the bottom of the evaporator used to boil the sap until it becomes syrup. Another cool maple product is maple sugar. Continue boiling the sap past the maple syrup stage and you end up with solid sugar. This is a much healthier and more flavorful alternative to regular granulated sugar. Since you’re going to be up all night boiling sap, why not a drink to help keep you warm? I’ve recently even seen dessert wines made with apples and cranberries fortified with maple syrup.
Celebrate spring, if it ever arrives, with a maple syrup-inspired feast that isn’t centered around pancakes. Add some maple syrup to your pan sauce for pork chops, whisk into a salad dressing to balance the acidity, or drizzle over vanilla ice cream to add complexity and depth, not just sweetness.