Margaret Button: Sap a sure sign of spring
Spring is a little more than a week away -- the official start of it that is. Personally, I'm beginning to think that winter is never going to leave.
I'll admit a snowpile that was halfway up our front window now only reaches the windowsill. To be honest, I don't want a quick thaw because the only place all the melted snow from that pile can go is into my basement. And although an indoor swimming pool would be nice, that's not how I want to get one!
I still haven't seen any robins or any sap buckets hanging off area maple trees. I also haven't seen any decrease in my heating fuel bill.
I want spring! I want to shed at least three layers of clothes and not have to get into a cold car in the morning when I go to work and again when I get out. I want to open the windows in the house and get some fresh air in. I want to see green grass on the lawn and a pool cover devoid of snow.
A story I'm currently pursuing is on maple sugaring. After what seemed like a week after the initial contact, I got a call Friday morning telling me that maybe -- just maybe -- the sap would begin running this weekend.
Not only did it give me hope that spring was, indeed, on its way (after all, doesn't maple sugaring require days in the 40s and nights in the 20s?), it also reminded me I had heard from a faithful reader, Ed, who had written to me in January about all things Vermont and maple syrup.
According to him, Vermont natives use Grade B or lower syrups -- and he should know, since I get the feeling he is an "old Vermonter" as they say. He explained the lower grade syrups are made from sap collected when the maples begin to bud.
"This is flavorful and tasty, and most sell the light, fancy syrup," he added.
He goes on to tell how to make sugar on snow. "Slowly boil this dark syrup to thicken it. Some go to what they call ‘syrup sugar' or ‘soft sugar.' Then, pour this nectar thinly on the snow (usually a big metal pan of snow. It cools and congeals quickly, then people begin to peel it off in their own way and eat it. Then, you eat sour dill pickles and a small amount will remove the sweet taste in your mouth. It works!"
Ed goes on to say the ice cream is usually topped with maple syrup or brandied fruit, but usually both. (He had my rapt attention at the thought of warm maple syrup over ice cream, but I had no idea what brandied fruit was ...)
All I had to do was keep on reading: "Brandied fruit is usually canned fruit with some of the juice and a splash of brandy and the fruit mixture is allowed to ferment. Most people save some ‘starter' for themselves and friends. Some has been saved and used for generations ..."
Uh-oh, this is starting to sound like the Herman sour dough starter someone jinxed me with years ago. There was no end to it and I ran out of friends to give it to really fast.
"Commercial products and toppings don't compare," Ed continues. I don't use toppings, I want the taste of ice cream, but I love the two above.
"The alcohol disappears. I have been told that my mother-in-law and WCTU friends used brandied fruit."
After talking about his in-laws for awhile, he once again got my undivided attention, by mentioning that his father-in-law and another in-law had owned a cider mill that produced cider, hard cider and apple ice wine. (Yup, I'm all about ice wine since my sister-in-law and brother-in-law sent me some made by the Amish in Ohio.)
"He had a reputation as a practical joker," Ed wrote of his father-in-law. "He supplied ‘apple nectar' to the meeting of the WCTU ladies. The ladies loved it, but later that evening, they were far from sober."
As a postscript to the letter, Ed added that if you have maple syrup that shows mold, boil it for about 15 minutes and every time the mold will disappear. Don't throw it away!
Although I love maple syrup, I don't seem to have too many recipes that use it. One of my favorites, maple butter, takes all of two minutes to make and is so good on French toast or pancakes. And please, just for this recipe, don't substitute margarine for the butter! Maple Butter Recipe
12 cup softened butter
14 cup maple syrup
Mix butter and maple syrup with electric mixer until blended. Serve on toast, cracker or warm muffins.
Korean Teriyaki Chicken
14 cup soy sauce
1 cup water
13 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
5 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Mix the soy sauce, 1 cup water, maple syrup, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Set aside 13 cup of the mixture. Place the chicken in the bag, seal and marinate at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Place the rice in a saucepan with 2 cups water, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven broiler. Lightly grease a baking dish.
Pour marinade from the bag into a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Mix in the cornstarch, and cook and stir until thickened.
Place chicken in the prepared baking dish. Basting frequently with the reserved 13 cup marinade, broil 8 minutes per side, until juices run clear. Place chicken over the cooked rice, and top with boiled marinade to serve.