Mmm… maple syrup. Sounds sexier than ‘xylem sap’, doesn't it? Which, botanically speaking, it actually is. There’s a certain romance surrounding this most Canadian of products – yep, that’s a maple leaf adorning the striking national flag. In cold climates (the syrup is also produced in the nearby American state of Vermont), maple trees store starch in their trunks before winter, converting it to sugar that rises in the sap during spring. Maple sap is extracted via holes bored into the tree trunks through a process called ‘tapping’. Syrup is produced when the watery sap is concentrated by boiling; approximately 150 litres of sap is required to produce just 3.75 litres of maple syrup. Which maybe explains why the end result is relatively expensive. The production of the sap relies on very specific weather conditions – freezing nights followed by warm spring days – and to produce sap, a tree has to be 40–50 years old. This is because, to cope with being tapped, the trunk needs to have a diameter of at least 25 cm.
Once tapped, it can’t handle the process again until it grows another 12 cm in diameter. Maple syrups are graded according to density, translucency and colour, and the best quality ones are pale. The highest quality syrup is collected during the first runs, with the quality slowly degrading over the month-long collecting season. Sucrose is the main sugar present and, in Canada, maple syrup must contain at least a 66 percent sugar content to be counted as the real thing. Fake maple syrups are based on cheap corn syrup, caramel colouring and cellulose gum, and lack the suave subtly of the genuine article.
1. Maple bourbon sours
Gently stir together 1½ cups bourbon, ¾ cup lemon juice and 100 ml maple syrup in a glass jug, adjusting the sweet and sour flavours to taste. You do want an edge of lemon. Stir in plenty of ice cubes to chill, then strain into chilled glasses that have had their rims dipped in maple syrup and then in caster sugar.
A perennially adored Cantonese dish that is so ridiculously easy to make, there’s never any need to go and buy it as takeaway. Adjust the aromatics as you wish, adding more, or less, spices, sugar, wine and soy, according to your preference. Serve this with steamed rice and steamed green vegetables for an easy, but spectacular, dinner.
3. Maple and pear coleslaw
Finely shred 350 g white cabbage and ½ large fennel bulb. Halve, core and finely slice 1 pear. Combine in a bowl with a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley. Stir together ½ cup whole-egg mayonnaise, 2 tbsp maple syrup, 2 tsp cider vinegar and a large pinch of celery seeds. Combine with the cabbage mixture, season well and serve.
4. Maple apple sauce
In a saucepan, combine 1.25 kg peeled and chopped Granny Smith apples, ½ cup maple syrup, 2 tbsp lemon juice, ½ cinnamon stick and ½ cup water. Cover, bring to the boil and then cook over medium heat for 25 minutes, or until apple is very soft. Add more syrup to taste, if desired. Remove cinnamon stick and process until smooth. Serve with roast pork or duck.
DON’T, whatever you do, freak out over the lengthy cooking time here. That long, slow roasting results in fall-apart juicy meat that will knock your socks off. While it’s in the oven you don’t need to do much to it, except give it the occasional lick over with some of the maple-mustard mixture. A shoulder roast works so well here because you need some fat to stop things turning dry and anything cooked on the bone just tastes fabulous.
6. Maple teriyaki salmon
Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a saucepan. Add 1 crushed garlic clove and 2 tsp finely chopped ginger. Cook for 2 minutes and add 2½ tbsp light soy sauce, 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 2½ tbsp orange juice and 2½ tbsp maple syrup. Boil until reduced slightly. Cook four 175 g salmon fillets in a frying pan, adding teriyaki sauce towards the end of cooking, turning fish to coat well. Serve salmon with maple teriyaki sauce spooned over.
7. Maple-roasted vegetables
Preheat oven to 180°C. Peel and chop 4 carrots, 4 parsnips and ½ jap pumpkin, seeds removed. Divide between two baking trays lined with baking paper, and then, over each tray, drizzle¼ cup olive oil and ⅓ cup maple syrup. Toss to coat, scatter with a few thyme sprigs and season well. Roast for 55 minutes, or until very tender and sticky.
You can skip the bacon entirely here if you prefer but that salty, meaty crunch really does take these bad boys into another stratosphere of flavour altogether. (Be sure to use thinly sliced, streaky bacon here and avoid overly wet bacon; this makes all the difference in it cooking to ultimate crispness).
9. Maple and pecan pralines
Line a baking tray with baking paper. In a saucepan, boil ¼ cup pouring cream, 1 cup maple syrup and 1 tbsp unsalted butter over medium heat until it reaches 120°C on a sugar thermometer. Remove from the heat, cool for 2 minutes, then stir in 1 cup chopped pecans. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the prepared tray, sprinkle with sea salt and leave to set.
10. Maple sugar pie
This is a variation of Sugar pie, a baked custard-style tart that’s associated with the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec. Versions are also popular in the American Midwest and are variously called Sugar cream pie, Hoosier sugar cream pie and Indiana farm pie.
Photography, styling and food preparation by china squirrel.
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