It’s been a crazy winter with snow and ice and cold. Which means it’s been a crazy time for making maple syrup.
The trees are usually tapped in early February. The best flow of sap comes when the nights are cold and the days are warm. So toward the end of February we had some really good sap flow. Our son John puts buckets on our maple trees and the kids love seeing the drip-drip-drip of the sap into the bucket. The sap is collected every day and then boiled down in John’s outdoor wood-fired evaporator. It takes 40 gallons of sap to yield 1 gallon of syrup! (Don’t try doing it in your house, or your wallpaper might start peeling off your wall!)
The first syrup of the season is a very light-colored amber. As the season continues, the syrup gets darker and darker. Even though the light amber syrup is considered more desirable, I prefer the darker syrup for cooking. It’s dark because more nutrients are flowing up to the tree as spring starts. And I think it has more flavor. I always have John save the last, darkest syrup for me.
On Sunday we did one of our favorite things. We stood in the sugar shack at John’s farm, totally enveloped by the thick cloud of evaporating maple sap. We scooped big bowls of vanilla ice cream, and then poured the delicious hot maple syrup fresh from the evaporator onto it. It was delicious and the grandkids, young and old, loved it! (And I won’t tell you how many bowls Mike ate!)
The sap itself is fun to use while cooking. It has only a hint of sweetness to it. So it is great to use when making soup beans. Some people drink it because it has a great taste and is full of nutrients. I have actually canned some for drinking later. But I like the syrup best for cooking and baking. You can use it in baked beans, salad dressings, glaze for meats, and so many other things. I have a recipe for chicken thighs marinated and baked in a sauce made with maple syrup that I can’t wait to try. And I recently made some maple carrot cupcakes that were delicious.
But my favorite recipe is a simple maple-oatmeal cookie. It is easy to stir up at a minute’s notice. And I actually keep the dough in the refrigerator at the Governor’s Residence so that I can make a quick batch no matter who stops by. As Mike meets with legislators and others, it’s nice to have a warm cookie to offer them with their coffee. (I heard the Speaker ate four of of them at his last meeting there!)
These cookies are especially good with chopped nuts and chocolate chips. John’s daughters Josie and Rebecca sometimes help me make them. We also love to give them as gifts along with their syrup from Flying Mouse Farm — named by John because Mike’s dad used to tell him stories when he was little of the adventures of the flying mouse. And if you look at the logo on the bottle, the man seated on the flying mouse is Dick DeWine. His hat gives him away!
Maple Carrot Muffins
Line muffin tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 375°.
Mix together in a bowl:
1 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
In a large bowl, mix together:
3/4 cup dark maple syrup
1/2 cup Canola oil
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Add flour mixture and stir to combine. Fill each cupcake liner with about 1/4 cup batter. Bake 16-18 minutes. Cool.
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
Mix together. Spread on muffins.
Makes 12 muffins.
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Josie & Rebecca’s Maple- Oatmeal Cookies
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts – optional
Mix all together in bowl. Drop by rounded teaspoons on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake 350° 8-10 minutes. Makes 30 cookies.
Fran DeWine is a Cedarville resident, Yellow Springs native, First Lady of Ohio and guest columnist.