Experimenting With Maple Syrup

Ontario’s Lake Country’s Golden Treat

Experimenting With Maple Syrup

By Habeeb Salloum

The first stop of our group on the Tap into Maple Route located in Ontario’s Lake Country and Springwater, an area within the larger region of Bruce Grey Simcoe, was at Shaw’s Maple Syrup and Sugar Bush, a plantation of maple tree wonder and also home of the Shaw Pancake House. In this land of scenic, tamed wilderness for Torontonians and thousands of other tourists, Lake Country is an outdoor paradise that has many enticements, not least of which is the maple syrup season and its peripheral bounty.

We had come in early spring to enjoy this North American natural sweet—the only sweet enjoyed by the Indigenous Peoples in this part of the world before the arrival of Columbus.

The North American cold and harsh winters, followed by warm and sunny spring thaws give parts of Canada and the U.S.A. an advantage when it comes to the production of maple syrup. These ideal weather conditions produce the sweetest and most flavorful maple syrup not only in Canada, but also around the world. This, combined with the thousands of acres of natural maple forests (also called bushes), make Eastern Canada, especially Quebec (producing some 70 percent of the world’s production of maple syrup), and the North Eastern U.S.A., the home of almost all the sugar maples in the world.

While enjoying a breakfast that included a large stack of pancakes saturated with homemade maple syrup, Tom Shaw, owner and manager of the Sugar Bush enthusiastically talked about his passion for his family’s business. He is the fifth generation of Shaws who have been producing maple syrup on this farm and his son, soon to follow, will be the sixth. Tom’s great-grandfather began the business in 1904 by collecting the sap in pails and boiling it in cast-iron pots. This method continued until the 1970s when a system of tubing was installed.

Sated from a very filling meal, led by Tom, we walked to the edging sugar maple bush where we were shown the old method of sap dripping into buckets, a slow and tedious process. Just as Tom explained, we witnessed what must have been a near revolution in production technology when we watched how the tubing system works to collect sap. These tapped trees are connected by a system of plastic tubing that transports the sap from the trees to tanks where it is stored for distilling. The end product remains naturally pure syrup without any chemical agents or preservatives.

Depending on the sugar content, usually running from two to four percent, it takes 30 to 40 liters (roughly eight to 10 gallons) of sap to produce, after boiling, one litre of syrup. The condensed product contains significant amounts of carbohydrates, potassium and calcium, and small amounts of iron and phosphorus, and a tablespoon contains about 50 calories. From this pure syrup, which is filtered and sterilized before being poured into containers, are made: maple sugar, maple butter, soft maple sugar candy, and maple taffy—all appreciated products that the tourist takes back as a souvenir of Canada.

Even though all over North America and other parts of the world, maple syrup is known as a breakfast delight, the Indigenous Peoples used it to enhance wild game and, later, the European settlers added it to all kinds of dishes. Today, when, in the maple syrup areas, the sap runs, it’s maple syrup time! Family and friends gather during the few weeks in spring when the sap flows and the theme is usually maple syrup foods. Besides the traditional Canadian maple syrup dishes such as maple syrup-baked beans, maple omelettes, and maple desserts, and hot maple taffy served on a bed of fresh snow, I often add this luxurious natural sweetener to my favorite Middle Eastern desserts such as Kunafa, stringed phyllo-dough filled with a soft cheese, and Qata’if, a type of stuffed pancake dessert.

As for us that day, at the point where the sap is collected we stopped to listen to Tom relate the story of maple syrup and its attributes. It was apparent that maple syrup and its many drawing cards was an integral part of his life.

Leaving Tom’s Bush behind I thought of the boiling sap, called by some of its fans, “liquid gold.” As happens to the gold ore in its raw stage, the maple sap was before us being refined into a valuable commodity. The difference is one can eat this variety of liquid gold.

Back home in my kitchen I continued my experimentation with maple syrup as an ingredient in food and came up with a series of dishes. From these the following will give an idea of the culinary delight of this golden eatable.

RECIPES

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Maple Flavored Baked Chicken

Serves 8

Cooking meat with a sweet taste is a North African specialty. This dish is a continuation of this tradition.

      2 tablespoons ground mustard seed

      8 cloves garlic, crushed

      5 tablespoons maple syrup

      1/4 cup lemon juice

      1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

      1 teaspoon black pepper

      1 teaspoon cumin

      2 teaspoons powdered ginger

      1 1/2 teaspoons salt

      2 tablespoons olive oil

      4 pounds chicken drumsticks*

      Flour for dredging

      2 eggs whisked with 1 tablespoon water

      2 1/2 cups breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400˚F.

Place mustard, garlic, maple syrup, lemon juice, thyme, pepper, cumin, ginger, salt and oil, in a large bowl then thoroughly combine. Add chicken and coat evenly. Cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for one hour, turning the chicken over every 15 minutes.

Dredge the drumsticks with the flour, then lightly roll in the egg mixture. Coat each drumstick in the breadcrumbs and place in a well-greased casserole, side by side. Cover. Bake until done for about 1 1/2 hours, the final 20 minutes uncovered.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

* If boneless chicken breast is preferred, bake for 45 minutes or until golden.

Maple Syrup

Maple Carrots

Serves 4

This type of dish is popular in Morocco but made with sugar or honey instead of maple syrup.

       1 pound carrots, sliced into

       1/2 inch thick rounds

       4 tablespoons maple syrup mixed with

       2 tablespoons orange juice and

       1/4 teaspoon salt

       1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

       1/4 teaspoon cumin

Place carrots in a saucepan, then cover with water and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes or until slices are tender. Drain then stir in maple syrup mixture. Allow to simmer uncovered over low heat for five minutes, stirring a few times, then place on serving dish. Sprinkle with ginger and cumin then serve.

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Baked Beans With Maple Syrup

Serves about 6

Beans cooked in this way with vegetables and herbs and spices are perhaps more tasty and healthier than beans cooked with all types of meat.

        1 1/2 cups white beans, soaked overnight in water into which has been
dissolved 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, then drained

        8 cups water

        2 large sweet red peppers, seeded and finely chopped

        1 large onion, finely chopped

        4 cloves garlic crushed

        2 cups chopped mushrooms

        4 tablespoons tomato paste, dissolved in 1/2 cup water

        1/2 cup maple syrup

        1 teaspoon salt

        1 teaspoon dry mustard

        1 teaspoon cumin

        1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

        1/2 teaspoon black pepper

        1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Place beans and water in a saucepan and bring to boil, then cover and cook over medium-low heat for one hour or until beans are half cooked (still semi-firm). Transfer with their water to a casserole then stir in remaining ingredients. Cover, then bake in a preheated 350°F oven for three to four or until beans are well cooked, checking occasionally and adding more water if necessary.

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Sweet Cabbage andApple Salad

Serves about 6

Different than ordinary salads, this cooked salad dish is both succulent and satisfying.

       4 tablespoons olive oil

       1 medium onion, thinly sliced

       1 large apple, cored and finely chopped

       4 cups shredded cabbage

       1/3 cup water

       4 tablespoons maple syrup

       3 tablespoons vinegar

       1/2 teaspoon salt

       1/2 teaspoon black pepper

       1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

Heat oil in a saucepan, then sauté onion and apple over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients then cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Serve hot or cold as a salad or vegetarian entrée.

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Lentils with Maple Syrup

Serves about 8

Simple to prepare this recipe can be served with cooked rice or mashed potatoes. 

       1 1/2 cups split red lentils

       4 cups water

       2 medium potatoes, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

       2 medium carrots, finely chopped

       1 medium onion, finely chopped

       4 cloves garlic, crushed

       4 tablespoons tomato paste, dissolved in 1/2 cup water

       4 tablespoons maple syrup

       2 tablespoons soy sauce

       2 tablespoons olive oil

       1 teaspoon powdered ginger

       1 teaspoon cumin

       1 teaspoon dried marjoram

       1/2 teaspoon salt

       1/2 teaspoon black pepper

       1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Place all ingredients in a casserole then stir. Cover; bake in a 350˚F preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours or until lentils are well cooked, checking a few times and adding more water if necessary. Serve hot.

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Sweet Maple Syrup Balls

Makes about 3 dozen balls

This is a type of dessert that is prepared in different ways in many countries, especially in Asia.

       2 cups flour

       4 tablespoons cornstarch

       1/2 teaspoon salt

       1 1/4 ounce package dry yeast dissolved in l/4 cup of warm water along
with 1 teaspoon of sugar then allowed to stand for 10 minutes

       2 cups warm water

       1 1/2 cups maple syrup, mixed with 1/2 cup water

       Cooking oil for deep-frying

Combine flour, cornstarch and salt in a mixing bowl, then pour in yeast and mix well. Add water then stir until mixture resembles texture of pancake batter, adding more flour or water if necessary. Cover; then set aside for one hour.

In the meantime, heat maple syrup, then set aside, but keep warm.

Place oil in a saucepan and heat over medium, then drop one tablespoon of batter into hot oil. Deep-fry until balls become golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and dip into warm syrup. Remove, drain excess syrup then arrange on a serving platter. Continue until all the batter is used. The balls are at their best if served soon after frying.

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Maple and Walnut Tarts

Makes about 16 medium size tarts

Pecan or pine nuts can be used as a substitute for the walnuts.

1/2 pound butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons vinegar

4 eggs, beaten (1 beaten separately)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups white flour

1 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine butter, water, vinegar and the one egg (beaten separately), then set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine salt and flour, then slowly pour in contents of the other mixing bowl. Knead into dough, adding a little water or flour if necessary. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 16 balls, then roll out balls into rounds about l/8 inch thick. Place each round snugly in greased muffin cups, then flute in same fashion as pie and trim excess dough. Pierce tart shells in bottom a few times with a fork, then bake in a 375˚F preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

In the meantime, combine remaining ingredients to make filling. Fill the tart shells, dividing the filling evenly, then bake in a 350˚F preheated oven for 15 minutes or until crust turns golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool; then remove tarts from trays and serve.

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Maple Syrup Bread Pudding

Serves about 6

To make these “maple-syrupy” sweeter, maple syrup may be added to the cooked pudding to taste.

       2 tablespoons olive oil

       2 packed cups of small pieces of bread

       1 1/2 cups milk

       1 cup maple syrup

       2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water

       1 teaspoon vanilla

       1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

       1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

       1/2 cup currants or raisins

       Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine all ingredients, except whipped cream, in a greased casserole dish, then bake uncovered for about 50 minutes or until top lightly browns. If desired, top with a tablespoon of maple syrup and serve with whipped cream.

Tofu Cream Dessert

Serves 4 to 6

A tasty and healthy dessert, this dish is simple to prepare and makes a tasty treat.

       1 pound soft tofu, drained

       1/2 cup maple syrup

       1 tablespoon lemon juice

       2 teaspoons vanilla extract

       1 teaspoon lemon rind

       1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until creamy — 5 to 10 minutes. Chill then serve.

Maple Syrup and Date Muffins

Makes about 16 medium size muffins

Dates, an Arab contribution to the world’s cuisine, go well as an ingredient in desserts, especially muffins and cakes.

       2 cups white flour

       2 teaspoons baking powder

       1/2 teaspoon baking soda

       1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

       1/2 teaspoon salt

       1 cup chopped dates

       1/2 cup ground almonds

       2 eggs, beaten

       3/4 cup maple syrup

       1/2 cup butter, melted

       3/4 cup water

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, then stir in dates and almonds and set aside.

In another bowl, combine remaining ingredients, then stir into flour mixture, adding more water if necessary to make a batter. Fill greased muffin cups, about 3/4 full, then bake in a preheated 350˚F oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes, then remove from cups.

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