Baking with Maple Syrup

IMG_0787I had a couple of REALLY overripe bananas the other day NEEDING to be used or chucked. You know, the kind so brown they are mushy in your hand? I didn’t really want to waste them, but I’m sick of making banana bread whenever I do this. So I decided to look for a recipe which combined my bananas with maple syrup instead. I really want to start cooking with maple syrup and honey, since it’s so plentiful around here.

This recipe did the trick.

Maple Banana Muffins

(12 servings)

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract (I used vanilla)
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (I had an open bag of pecans, which worked really well)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar (I left this out)

IMG_0786

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  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and maple syrup. Beat in the egg and bananas, leaving a few small chunks. Stir in the maple (vanilla) extract and milk. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and stir into the banana mixture just until moistened. Pour into muffin liners.  Mix the nuts and sugar, and sprinkle evenly over the batter.IMG_0789
  3. Bake 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

A few notes. The muffins were sweet, but could have been sweeter, which means I could have used another 1/4 cup of maple syrup in there. It was odd not using any sugar, but strangely satisfying.

Instead of regular sugar, I used the maple sugar we bought last winter from the sugarhouse in Berlin, NY. I sprinkled it on top of the muffin cups before baking.  Yum!

Our bounty from the sugar house

Our bounty from the sugar house

These muffins were well-done at 30 minutes! No way did they need 50 minutes!

Welcome to breakfast for the next week!

Finished muffins

Finished muffins

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Maple Sugar Weekend

dscn1954

It’s the end of winter and the beginning of spring and what else is there to do in upstate NY and Vermont?  Maple sugaring of course!!  This weekend marked the start of a 2 weekend event called the 14th Annual Maple Weekend in NY.

I have always wanted to go maple sugaring, ever since I read about it in Little House in the Big Woods.  Laura Ingalls described the whole process, including maple syrup “snow cones” (they would pour syrup over snow and eat it) and the only candy she would get all year when she was very young was maple syrup candy (this was before they left Wisconsin to go out West).  This year I finally got my dates straight and hubby and I traveled to Berlin this afternoon to check out Kent’s Sugar House.

Kent's Sugar House

Kent's Sugar House

We headed up the mountain, and snow started to fall, perfect sugaring weather.  If it had been earlier in the year, we would have been worried about getting snowed in on the mountain, but given that it’s spring now, we felt ok driving in my dinky Honda Civic.  We actually passed one sugar house, then another – apparently people over here have their own little sugar houses in their back yards.  Very cool.  Finally, we saw a bunch of cars parked on the downside of the mountain, and a little red cabin with steam pouring from its roof.

Steam!

Steam!

We walked into the cabin and were treated to a little tour about how the sugaring process works.

Inside the bustling sugar hosue

Inside the bustling sugar house

Sap from maple trees starts flowing just about the time when the temperatures get above freezing during the day (40 degrees F is perfect) and drops to below freezing (20 degrees F is ideal here) at night.  In order to keep a tree productive, you need older trees of at least 12 inches in girth, preferably 18 inches.  Taps are inserted 4-6 inches into the tree and a bucket hung below to collect the sap.

Two taps and buckets and on this maple tree.

Two taps and buckets and on this maple tree.

Sap collecting in a bucket

Sap collecting in a bucket

The sap looks like water in the bucket, and sort of tastes like it too.  Shh…don’t tell anyone, but K and held out our fingers under the tap and let it drip onto us – it definitely doesn’t taste like maple syrup!

All of the sap is poured into a central collection point and then goes through this pipe into the sugar house.

Collection pipe into the sugar house.

Collection pipe into the sugar house.

Once in the sugar house, the sap is put into this machine-thingy, which I’m guessing is called the evaporator.

Sap in the evaporator

Sap in the evaporator

Below the evaporator, a furious fire stoked with hardwoods keeps the sap boiling for days.

Lots o' wood

Lots o' wood

Boiler below the evaporator

Boiler below the evaporator

As it goes through the evaporator, it boils down further and further.

Almost syrup!

Almost syrup!

The steam in the sugar house was almost too much for my little camera, but hopefully you can see the little lanes the sap-to-syrup have to go through to the end.

Afterwards, the syrup is filtered with those little scooper things you see in the above pictures as well as put through cheesecloth.  Finally, it’s graded according color.

Grades of syrup

Grades of syrup

The grade of the syrup has nothing to do with the quality of the syrup, just the color.  The darker the color the lower the grade.  The color of the syrup has to do with the sap harvest that year.  We were told that this year was supposed to be the perfect maple sugar year – we had a long, hard winter – a normal winter for this area, unlike the last few years of relatively light winters, but now, at the end of the winter, it has been very very cold, and then all of a sudden very warm – into the 50s for the last week or so.  So they are disappointed.

They gave me and K a sample to drink….yummy, warm dark syrup.

K drank every last drop!

K drank every last drop!

But hopefully we lifted their spirits a bit, by pretty much buying a ton of maple stuff from them.  Hey, we want to support our local farmers, and it’s not like we get to do this every day.  But I think we’re pretty much set until next season with maple stuff now 🙂

Our bounty from the sugar house

Our bounty from the sugar house

  • 1 pint of Grade A Dark Amber maple syrup
  • Pure maple sugar
  • Jar of maple cream
  • 2 teabags of maple tea

We also bought another tea bag and a pint of light amber syrup.  I think we’re good.

Given that we live in the area, we’re now hoping that our future homestead has at least a few maple trees that we’ll be able to collect sap from.  It takes 43 gallons of sap to make ONE gallon of syrup!  But the sugarers assured us you can easily make a half gallon or less instead of the hundreds of gallons they make in their operation every winter.  Mmm…I can see myself making maple syrup now…

I love this picture:

How to make 1 gallon of maple syrup

How to make 1 gallon of maple syrup

Here’s what the picture above reads:

This is what it takes to make one gallon of NY maple syrup:

  1. It takes 4 maple trees, at least 40 years, growing in the mountain “sugarbush,” to yield enough sap in 6 weeks to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup.
  2. It takes a “gathering crew” to climb the mountains daily during March and April to collect the dripping sap and haul it down to the “sugarhouse.”
  3. It takes 40 gallons of sap, boiled down in the “evaporator,” to concentrate the sweet sap-water into one gallon of maple syrup.
  4. It takes a 4 foot log, sawed, split, dried and burned in the raging fire in the “arch” under the evaporator for each gallon of syrup produced.
  5. It takes the whole sugarmaker’s family to continually fire the arch, operate the evaporator and sterilize, filter, grade, and pack each gallon of syrup.

SO, if you had to climb the mountain, tap the trees, haul the sap, cut the wood, stoke the fires and pack the syrup to comply with the nation’s only strictly enforced maple law, how much would you ask for a gallon of Pure New York maple syrup?

It’s hard work.  But oh…drizzling that warm, amber liquid over some pancakes in the morning is SO worth it.