The magic of maple

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March 25th, 2011 Original Article
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Some years ago, my husband’s aunt took up an unusual food challenge after a friend mentioned his love of garlic.

He loved it so much, he said, that he could eat garlic for breakfast, lunch and dinner and all the way through each meal, up to and including dessert. So Aunt Judy came up with a dinner that used garlic “all the way through.”

I don’t remember what she served for the appetizer and entrée, but I distinctly recall that the meal ended with garlic ice cream. Aunt Judy insists that it did not gross out anyone who tried it.

OK, so garlic ice cream isn’t about to capture the nation’s taste buds any time soon. Yet the challenge of taking a single ingredient “all the way through” a day’s menu is intriguing. And it got me thinking about what ingredients could and would travel that far.

Cheese, apple, orange, lemon, chocolate, yogurt, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg. There are more possibilities than we realize, including ingredients that we tend to associate with just one meal.

How about pure maple syrup? With the sap running now in Wisconsin’s maple trees, it is a good time to reconsider the range of this delicious plant food.

Sweet and earthy, with a pleasing color palette that runs from pale gold to deep chestnut, maple syrup can hold up through a variety of dishes.

Pia Mara Finkell, a trained pastry chef who now works for the Quebec federation of Maple Syrup Producers, says many consumers don’t think about maple syrup as a versatile, through-the-meal food. In fact, maple syrup has been that and more in its long history, which goes back to American Indian tribes, who taught European settlers how to tap sugar maples with spiles in the early spring, then to boil down the sticky sap to make syrup.

“It was a homeopathic remedy for centuries,” Finkell says. “We’re creating recipes all the time, using pure maple syrup in all kinds of dishes. We’re using it in soups, in glazes for meats and seafood. . . .  Right now, we’re working to put out maple syrup cocktails.”

That last use of maple syrup is in response to the natural-foods trend that has swept through the beverages industry – as it has already done in other aspects of the culinary world.

Mixologists who desire pure ingredients opt for maple syrup instead of simple syrup, made of cane or beet sugar and water. Cocktails that use maple syrup, such as the Noreaster (see recipes), have a depth of sweetness and flavor, Finkell says.

One of Finkell’s favorite new uses for maple syrup is the Maple Latte. The idea came from Grounded, a New York cafe, where a Canadian baristo created the drink in honor of his homeland. (Grounded calls theirs “The Canadian Latte.”) It is simply a matter of adding a shot or two of maple syrup to the espresso and milk drink “and it tastes absolutely delicious,” Finkell says. “Really, you wouldn’t believe how good it is.”

If you have doubts about consuming all that syrup, consider this: A recent study by a University of Rhode Island researcher found that a ¼-cup serving of pure maple syrup contains 20 antioxidants, including several cancer-fighting compounds. Finkell adds that pure maple syrup takes longer to digest. These properties make it a healthier choice than sugar, she says, which holds about the same amount of calories but with no beneficial compounds.

Different grades of syrup have different uses. The lightest version (Grade A light amber) is usually reserved as a table syrup because of its delicate flavor. Grade A Medium Amber and Grade A Dark Amber can be used for savory dishes and all cooking and baking applications, imparting a hearty maple flavor.

If you wish to try maple syrup all the way through a day, we have recipes inside that feature pure maple syrup for breakfast (Maple Cream Scones), lunch (Mango Black Bean Salad), dinner (Scallops with Lemon and Maple Dressing and Ham Steak with Maple Raisin Sauce) and dessert (Black Bottom Cheesecake Bars).

And absolutely, positively no garlic ice cream.

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