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Sweet & Sappy: Harvesting Maple Sap is Worth Tasting the Nectar

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It is said that the original ice cream cone was simply maple syrup poured over snow that was stuffed into a birch bark cone. I can believe that.

Maple sap, also called zogalebi or sweet water, tastes even sweeter than white sugar and is a healthier natural substitute. Growing up, my parents had friends from Vermont who would bring a jug of syrup when they visited. Needless to say, we loved their visits.

Our ancestors harvested sap from maple trees by carving a “V”-shaped incision into trees. Then hollow reeds were inserted to direct the sap into birch bark or wooden containers. Hot rocks were added to the containers to thicken the sap. Often, it was left overnight to freeze so a layer of ice could form. The ice was later removed, creating even thicker sap. Before iron pots, the sap was reduced in clay pots. The introduction of iron pots eased the process, and syrup production became much more common. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to cook down to 1 gallon of syrup. Because of this, many homes had a sugarhouse.

Unless you want to have a sticky kitchen for weeks, I recommend making maple syrup outside over a fire. Store syrup in a cool, dark place, and refrigerate after opening.

Maple syrup is something I always keep on hand, and I’m stingy with it. Aside from being moderately expensive and time consuming to produce, a little bit goes a long way. But it’s worth it.

Good quality maple syrup is light in color; dark syrup is still very good, yet not as delicate in flavor. Enjoy maple syrup warm over pancakes or waffles, sweet potatoes, carrots, baked beans, inside winter squash and pudding recipes, or even as a liquid to boil ham and sausages. I have even used it to enhance barbeque sauce, cookie dough and some other baked specialties. It is a very versatile, natural ‘sweetie.’

Maple Apple Pudding

5 medium apples (granny smith, red delicious, or any other) peeled, cored and sliced thick

1 cup maple syrup

2 eggs

1 tablespoon butter, melted

½ cup flour

1 tablespoon lemonjuice

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup golden raisins

1 pinch salt

optional: whipped cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 8x8 glass baing pan. Place the thick apple slices in the pan and pour ½ cup of syrup over them, stir to coat apples, keep them flatish. In a separate bowl beat the egg, stir in butter, lemon juice and rest of maple syrup. In yet another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry mixture to the syrup mixture to make a smooth batter. Gently fold in raisins and spoon this batter evenly over the sliced apples. Bake for 30-35 minutes until top is lightly brown. Cool slightly and serve.

Dale Carson (Abenaki) is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking, and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for over 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.