Chow Town

Vermont trip reveals that maple tastes better than ‘maple flavoring’

Updated: 2013-11-06T14:41:22Z

By KATHY MOORE

Pancakes dripping with maple syrup. Roasted sweet potatoes, squash or carrots, glistening with maple syrup glaze. Hams roasted and glazed with a sweet touch of maple. Cooler fall days invite hearty dishes and maple syrup frequently sweetens the meal.

I am not talking about the pseudo syrup for pancakes — I am talking about the real deal. A couple years ago, we drove across Vermont, stopping at farms and markets along the way. It was an awesome adventure!

Winding down the narrow road, surrounded by picturesque farms and trees, we stumbled across a small sign inviting us to visit a maple farm — and what I learned there from the owners of Goodrich’s Maple Farm changed my way of thinking and eating.

They passionately talked about tapping thousands of trees — the same trees their family had tapped for generations. Between rustic buckets and glistening bottles for sell, I discovered purity and learned about grades and colors of maple syrup.

The first time you taste the sweet liquid you might be shocked. Yes, it is different and it is thinner than other syrups. It is sweet and satisfying — such that you might want to use a little less on those pancakes. It is captivating and suddenly you realize that “maple” tastes so much better than “maple flavoring.”

The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association guides you through the flavorful grades and flavors. Fancy is light and golden in color and delicate in flavor. It is mild and is a great drizzle on ice cream or oatmeal. Medium Amber, a popular grade for all round use, is richer in flavor and is a beautiful amber color. Many typical grocery store bottles of maple syrup are Medium Amber. Dark Amber as the name implies is a little darker and more robust in flavor. The darkest and strongest is Grade B and the rich flavor is great to use when baking. All are equally pure and wonderful, and it is simply a matter of when the sap was harvested — early in the season or later. Similar to wine and fruits.

We often think of maple syrup when hearty breakfasts chase the morning chill and fall baking fills the kitchen. We may finally notice the maple trees on pretty autumn days when those crimson leaves demand our attention, but maple syrup is a spring crop. The farmers tap the trees in the early spring when the sap begins to flow. The ten gallons of sap that typically come from one tree is boiled down to make just one quart of syrup. The Missouri Department of Conservation states that I could tap my sugar maple tree — but I think I will leave it to the pros in New England.

Maple syrup is packed with minerals and beneficial antioxidants, and nutritionally it is considered a superior choice to sugar or other sweeteners.

Compare the ingredient list on maple syrup and pancake syrup. Maple syrup has one ingredient — maple syrup. Pancake syrup is made from corn syrup, often high fructose corn syrup, with flavorings and preservatives added, but generally, not a drop of real maple syrup.

Pancake syrup was all I knew growing up. In fact, most of us with strong Midwestern roots don’t often think about the natural sweetener and syrup those maple trees are busy making. Now I do, and I am grateful for those gorgeous trees.

Kathy Moore is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is Triple Slow Cooker Entertaining. She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier. She blogs at pluggedintocooking.com

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