Look closely as you drive down some back roads and you might see old-fashioned buckets or plastic milk jugs hung from maple trees lining the road, or maple trees connected by tubes that empty directly into the nearby sap boiling house.
Late winter and early spring warm days and cool nights cause sap to rise in most trees, but it’s the slightly sweet maple sap that so many people prize.
The sap starts out colorless, and after many hours of boiling it down over a wood or other fire, golden, sticky sweet syrup results. I truly believe that maple syrup is the nectar of the gods. Its flavors range from light golden rather thin syrup, to dark brown, thick syrup.
Regardless of its color and viscosity, as far as I’m concerned, maple syrup sits at the top of the favorite sweets pile.
While I don’t collect and boil down my own syrup anymore, I do have friends and relatives who do. My nephew loves doing it, and he knows that his aunt is a major maple syrup lover so for Christmas or my birthday, he presents me with a quart of my own.
However, I do have to share it with my husband. It’s hard to hide!
I think maple syrup tastes best atop vanilla ice cream, sinking into homemade pancakes, or over a hot, buttered plain biscuit. But of course, there are so many other ways to use this glorious nectar.
A dab on hot oatmeal is delicious, or atop waffles, or even in a pie or cookies.
Although Vermont has the reputation for its maple syrup, recent agricultural statistics show that Maine actually produces more, but rather than being touted as Maine Maple Syrup, it takes on other brand names.
I’ve recently found a new way to use just a bit of this sweet syrup in a maple oatmeal yeast bread. Eaten warm with butter provides almost an entire supper. Then there is custard.
Most custards, which are also delicious, are flavored with vanilla. The following recipe is flavored with a half-cup of maple syrup. I like to top each serving with a few, finely chopped walnuts. This recipe can also be used in a single-crust maple custard pie. Simply line a 7- or 8-inch pie plate with pastry crust, and pre-bake at 375 for about 15 minutes, then follow the custard recipe to finish baking it.
Maple Custard (4 servings)
3 eggs, well beaten
one-half cup maple syrup
2 cups whole milk
Combine all ingredients until smooth.
Pour into individual custard dishes or ramekins.
Set filled dishes in a pan of hot water and bake, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until the blade of a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Top with finely chopped walnuts. Serve warm (preferably) or cold.
Oatmeal Maple Yeast Bread (2 loaves)
1 and three-quarters cups boiling water
1 cup uncooked old-fashioned oats
one-third cup shortening
one-half cup maple syrup
6 cups bread or all-purpose flour, or enough to make a stiff dough
one-half cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages dry yeast
one-quarter cup lukewarm water
Combine the boiling water with the oats, shortening, syrup, sugar and salt. Let cool. In another container, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. When the first mixture is cool, stir in the yeast mixture. Blend in the eggs, then gradually add the flour until a stiff dough results.
Round up dough in a greased bowl, cover with a cloth, and let rise until doubled (about 1-2 hours). Punch down. Knead for two minutes. Shape into loaves and place in two greased loaf pans. Cover and let rise again (about an hour). Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for one hour. Serve warm with lots of butter, and maybe a bit more maple syrup.
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