When you think of a food being ‘in-season’ you probably think of that first fresh summer peach, or apple picking in the fall. But you may not have realized that maple syrup has a season too. In fact, all of the maple syrup you drizzle on your pancakes or waffles year-round is collected this time of year, as the snow is melting and the temperatures are just beginning to peek above freezing.
Maple sugaring is the process of collecting the watery sap from maple trees and turning it into the golden, gooey stuff you love at breakfast (well, I love it all hours of the day). As I saw when I visited Vermont last week, producers drill a hole into a maple tree and attach a tap that allows the sap to drain out. At the time of the year when temperatures alternate between freezing at night and warm up to the 40s during the day, it creates pressure. That pressure causes the sap to flow, and fill up the bucket or bag attached to the tap. When the weather gets warm enough for buds to appear on the trees, the season is over.
I got my first taste of Maple Syrup Mania early last week in Montreal, where it is also maple sugaring season. I didn’t have time to make it out of the city, where the syrup itself is produced, but even downtown there was loads of excitement building about this year’s crop. At Jean Talon Market, we even picked up a can (yep, they sell it in cans!) of this season’s first syrup—a light amber, which comes earlier in the season than the darker varieties, and is prized for its beautiful color and full-bodied flavor. And it’s hard to miss the fact that maple is a major source of local pride, as you’ll see it as a star ingredient in cakes, muffins, crepes, lattes and more.
In Vermont, where much of the syrup in the U.S. is made, maple love is also strong. We were lucky enough pass through that state in time for Vermont Maple Open House Weekend where we could see the process up close, and sample some sweet treats like maple syrup on snow (it gets hard and gooey, like caramel—yum!), maple butter, and maple candy.
So why do I love maple syrup? Well, as far as sweeteners go, it’s one of your best bets. Don’t be fooled, though—calorie-wise and metabolism-wise, your body handles it similarly to other caloric sweeteners like sugar and honey. But maple syrup packs some bonuses like doses of minerals manganese and riboflavin. It’s also a good source of disease-fighting antioxidants (the darker the color, the better). I also just happen to love the flavor, and find that when you’re adding sweetness with such rich flavor, you can get away with adding less than if you were sprinkling sugar on top of, say, oatmeal or yogurt. And if you haven’t tried it as an ingredient in baking, I definitely recommend you do (just reduce the liquid in the recipe to make up for the extra moisture you’re adding).
In honor of our maple-themed vacation, I put together a maple-infused recipe I thought everyone would love, adapted from a recipe I saw in Eating Well magazine. It also happens to be gluten-free and Kosher for Passover (if you use KFP ingredients), which I thought could come in handy this week.
This recipe is:
Kosher for Passover (if you use certified ingredients)
I hope you love it! Stay tuned next week for more highlights from my trip to Montreal and Burlington, Vermont including my favorite vegetarian eats in both cities.
Maple-Almond Bars (adapted from Eating Well’s almond butter-quinoa blondies)
¼ cup olive oil
¾ cup smooth almond butter
¾ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cup quinoa flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixer, combine olive oil and almond butter. Add eggs, maple syrup, and vanilla, and mix until it appears creamy. With a rubber spatula, mix in quinoa flour, salt, and chocolate chips. Pour into an 8 x 8 baking dish, and cook for around 30 minutes, until cooked throughout. Let cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Cut into 12 rectangles, and serve.