Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Sweet Taste of Spring Is Upon Us!

Maple season is upon us here in the North Country and the clear sap will soon be turned into sweet New Hampshire gold. It is a wonderful time of the year — cold, crisp nights followed by warm days. The sugar maples need these ideal conditions to give up their sap. This is a tradition started by the Native Americans, who then taught the European settlers the art. It has turned into a multi-million dollar industry and New Hampshire produces some of the best syrup in the world. March Maple Madness Getaways are a perfect way to experience this season.

In brief — it takes a sugar maple 30 years to reach the proper diameter of 12 inches and it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. Add to that the high cost of fuel it takes to boil down the sap and that explains the high price of genuine maple syrup.

Back in Colonial times, wood was plentiful, as were sugar maples. Maple syrup and maple sugar were the standard household sweeteners, as they were much cheaper and much more readily available than refined sugar. Of course, that has all changed in modern times.

Cooking with maple is a wonderful way to add sweet undertones to any style of dish, from soups and salad dressings to meats, fish and, of course, desserts. As less maple is needed than white sugar, the flavor, rather than the sweetness, can come through nicely when used properly. When used with a light hand, maple syrup goes equally well with salty and strong flavored meats as well as milder tasting items such as chicken or scallops. Some different dishes to make include Maple Indian Pudding, Maple-Marinated Roasted Salmon, Roasted Apples with Salted Maple Cream, Sweet Pear and Gorgonzola Salad, and Warm Cabbage Slaw with Maple-Bacon Dressing.

One of the best things about Maple syrup is that it is 100% natural and contains calcium, zinc, antioxidants, riboflavin and niacin. Maple is graded according to a USDA grading scale:
Grade A — This is the best grade of syrup and is divided into Light Amber, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber. These terms refer not only to color, but also to flavor; the darker the color, the more intense the flavor.
Grade B — This is a dark, strongly flavored syrup with good maple flavor and overtones of caramel; generally used for cooking or in the production of other food products.
Grade C — This is a commercial-grade syrup, very dark and not generally for sale to consumers. This is used in commercial cooking and is often found in the "table syrup" blends.

Pure maple syrup contains a single ingredient: maple syrup; nothing added, nothing taken away, except water. It is mostly sucrose, with a small portion of glucose and fructose. A tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories, 29 grams of carbohydrates, a negligible amount of sodium, and no protein, fat, or cholesterol.

You can use maple syrup anywhere you use ordinary white sugar. There are different ways of substituting maple syrup for white sugar depending on what you’re doing with it. The easiest way to use maple syrup in cooking is by using maple sugar. When substituting maple sugar for white sugar, use one-half the amount the recipe requires. This is because maple sugar tastes much sweeter than white sugar.

When cooking with maple syrup, I suggest using three-quarters of a cup of maple syrup for every one cup of sugar that the recipe suggests. Even though maple syrup is not in solid form it is still very sweet compared to white sugar.

Now, when it comes to baking it gets a little tricky. Maple syrup has a lot of water compared to white sugar. So, when substituting for white sugar, the dominant wet ingredient also needs to be reduced. For the main wet ingredient use three tablespoons less for every one cup of maple syrup used. For example, if the recipe calls for one cup of cream, you would only use 6.5 ounces of cream for every cup of maple syrup. When mixing maple syrup into the recipe, it is important to remember to add it with the wet ingredients instead of the dry.

Unopened syrup stores easily, un-refrigerated. However, prolonged storage may cause the color of maple syrup to darken and the flavor may deteriorate; thus it is recommended to store maple syrup in the freezer. This is the best way to prevent any chance of spoilage and to keep the syrup at its peak of quality. If a thin layer of mold develops on an opened container of syrup, it can safely be peeled off and the syrup re-sterilized by bringing it briefly to 180° (a brief, light boil) and then rebottling it. The syrup may darken, but the flavor should be unaffected.

As part of the New Hampshire Maple Experience, we will be serving the following dessert here at the Adair Country Inn & Restaurant each weekend in March.

Maple Crème Brulee — 4 servings.

1/2 cup New Hampshire Maple Syrup
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
2 cups whipping cream
Granulated New Hampshire Maple Sugar


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk maple syrup, yolks and egg in medium bowl to blend. Put cream in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk hot cream into yolk mixture. Divide custard among prepared dishes. Set dishes into roasting pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of dishes. Cover pan with foil. Bake custards until set in center, about 55 minutes. Chill custard uncovered until cold, at least 5 hours. (Can be made a day ahead. Cover; keep refrigerated.) Before serving, top with maple sugar and burnish carefully with a blow torch, or put under the broiler 2 minutes until sugar is melted.

— Orlo Coots is Head Chef at Adair Country Inn & Restaurant. Enjoy his cooking Thursdays through Mondays by making a reservation at 603-444-2600. Orlo can be reached at for questions about this recipe or any other food-. related questions. Remember — whether cooking for one or for a crowd, make every bite count

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