#1: The Mighty Maple

WELL, here goes nothing.  Hello internet world.  I am sure that you have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the soon-to-be-cult-hit blog “United Tastes of Erica.”  My red carpet launch party has been canceled due to inclement weather so without further ado LETS DO THIS THING.

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United Tastes of Erica The Mighty Maple

The. Mighty. Maple.

Maple syrup. Why maple syrup you ask?  I don’t really know, I’m impulsive and it was the first topic that came to mind.  Speaking of word association what does your gray matter conjure up when you read “maple syrup?”  It may be pancakes/waffles/french toast/any other starchy dessert hiding under a breakfast halo.  For some it may be Denny’s/Eatin’ Park/Perkins/IHOP/any other diner chain hiding under a diner halo (I appreciate the honesty of those establishments).  For me, maple syrup brings tactile sensations of my first and favorite climbing tree.

My thoughts cooler than your thoughts
My thoughts are cooler than your thoughts (RUDE)

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Childhood. Story. Time.

I was a limber child with lanky arms and looooong legs.  I took to the skies early, much to the unease of my poor momma margaret (HI MOM #shamelessparentalshoutoutmidblogpost).  The first timber that caught my twinkled eye was a maple tree in our front yard along the driveway.  It had a low swooping bottom limb within grazing distance of my toughened four-year old fingertips (see artist rendering).  Due to height restrictions a Little Tyke stool was initially required (once again, see artist rendering).

Artist's Rendering of a Dramatization based on a Real Event
Artist’s rendering of a dramatization based on a real event (four-year old me tree climbing).  Note the lankiness. And the hair. Woof.

This tree had a welcoming quality, maternal almost, and I felt safer in her arms than I often did on the ground below.  Exploring those few low branches took me to a world in the clouds/leaves.  The love affair began there, long before the discovery of what delicious juices ran beneath my grip.

I understood maple syrup as a child in much the same way i understood milk: It came from a bottle in the fridge.  The first time my brain connected the sugar to the source was on a winters day when my older sister S (she shall remain as an initial to protect her identity.  That’s what all the classy bloggers do.) discovered icicles forming along a crack in Mrs. Maple’s branch.  This rare delicacy became known as “maple Ice,” a natural popsicle formed when oozing sap met melting snow.  But this leads me to the question “why tree sap is sweet at all?”

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Science. Behind. Sap.

So.  Here comes some science (yeah, I’m gonna get like this a lot soooo….).  Sap is a biological fluid used by trees and other plants as a transport system for water and nutrients.  The sap-containing cells are called xylem cells (SCRABBLE WORD ALERT).  Other notable xylem fluids include birch sap and aloe vera.  During glorious sun-filled days of summer leaves turn rays du soleil into sugar using that magical process of photosynthesis (cue shuddering among those who suffered through any Biol 100 course).  The sugar is converted to starch and stored in the wood surrounding the xylem cells.  When winter rolls into town the cold triggers a conversion of starch back to small sugar molecules to lower the freezing point.  The sweet sap concentrates around the root system for a nice hibernation.

Maple Spile in Tree
Drip drip drop little maple showers… (Photo credit: Chiot’s Run)

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Now here is where things get fun.  The prime-time for sap tapping is mid-February to mid-April.  During these months the nightly temperatures in maple dwellings drop below freezing.  Sap pools around the roots to protect the goods.  During the day the air warms to around 40°F, allowing sap to flow up to the treetops and branches.  Whats this mean for tapping? WELL, if you put a tap into a tree trunk when sap is not flowing, no sap comes out.  The late winter months are like rush hour, allowing the free flow of sap from the xylem cells into Mr. Canadian’s nice polite wooden bucket(eh?).  The lovely stolen/borrowed photo above depicts a tap that was drilled into the tree’s sap system to extract the liquid (tap it before you sap it).  You may notice that the liquid is clear rather than amber.  The clear sap is boiled down to produce maple syrup, a much sweeter and more viscous product.  THIS is when maple’s signature caramel color and flavor develops.  It usually takes about 40 gallons of sap to render 1 gallon of syrup.  YEAH.  No wonder Mr. Canadian is hard at work in his nice polite maple forest.

I’ve highlighted Canada as maple syrup country for good reason – those chaps up north churn out about 80% of the world’s maple syrup supply.  Holy beaver pelt batman!  I know.  The Northeastern U.S. doesn’t do to shabby, with Vermont leading the pack.  In fact, maple syrup is a North American original.  (cue history lesson…) (if you hate history just skip down to the recipes.  I know you.  I know why you came here.  #shamedonliveinternet #howdoesitfeeltobecalledout? #yeahyoureadthathistorysectionandyoulikeit #guilttrip)

Fuck yeah PA #7 get ittttt
Fuck yeah PA #7 get ittttt (P.S. I made this graphic. #paintskills)

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History. For the Geeks. And the Guilt-Tripped.

Maple sap itself is as old as maple trees (mind blowing).  The process of harvesting the sap and rendering it to syrup is newer, dating back to before the landing of the Pilgrims (holla at my people).  When America’s northeastern settlers adopted indigenous knowledge maple syrup rose to the top of the sugary heap.  This remained true for the North, but in the Southern U.S. a different story was a brewing, and it was not as sweet (I recently read a National Geographic article that shook up my sugar world).  The rebels below the Mason-Dixon depended upon slave-run sugar plantations to curb their cravings.  The American Civil War even highlighted this difference, with Northern soldiers carrying tins of maple syrup in mess kits while southern troops used molasses.  Many Yanks touted maple syrup as a humane sweetener made in the good ole U.S. of A. that could reduce our dependence on foreign sugar cane and molasses.  Boycotts of slave-made sugar sprung up and support grew for new standards of treatment for those who produced our food (my sister S informed me that sugar was the first fair-trade product. #bartrivia #yourewelcome).   Abolitionists encouraged maple syrup use to “reduce by that much the lashings the Negroes have to endure to grow cane sugar to satisfy our gluttony.”

Not only was maple syrup on the forefront of fair trade and going local, but it also featured in another prominent food movement.  The intense time and labor needed for syruping allowed for high prices per bottle.  Imitation syrups spread like wildfire, with bottles of caramel colored corn syrup touting “real maple” claims and raking in consumer’s dollars.  Outrage quickly followed and helped to fuel the infamous Food and Drug Act of 1906.  From this act stemmed standards of identity for a variety of products, including dear old maple syrup.  Funny enough, the adulterated brands did not fade away but spun the story as an improvement to their pure forefather.  Products now called “pancake syrups” advertised the butter flavor as a step up from maple syrup.  I think its time for a confession;  I, Erica of foodie fame, the great culinarian, the discerning palate herself, am a lover of Aunt Jemima’s.  I KNOW.  Blame it on childhood memories brainwashing my senses but there is something about that bitch that just gets to me.  Mmmmm.  Okay.  Weight lifted. You guys really understand me, you know?  Thanks.  Speaking of palates….

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Taste. The. Rainbow. (slash gradient of orange-ish browns)

Oh hai. Just chillin on a boat in the Ontario harbor.  NBD. #notatourist #eh
Oh hai. Just chillin on a boat in the Ontario harbor. NBD. #notatourist #eh? #yesthisisfrommyinstagram

I care so deeply about providing quality posts to my devoted blog followers (once again #HIMOM) that I took a business trip to Canada for research.  Note the Bieber-like hat and the Toronto skyline.  Canada.  While there I was bombarded with what seemed like millions of maple syrup options.  Three made the voyage home with me for what was to be a scientific sensory tasting expose.  It turned into me trying a spoon of each and my sister taking a picture.

From left to right: Canada #1 Light Grade A, Canada #1 Medium Grade B, Canada #3 Amber Grade C (for the non-pretentious readers it goes from light to dark)
From left to right: Canada #1 Light Grade A, Canada #1 Medium Grade B, Canada #3 Amber Grade C (for the non-pretentious readers it goes from light to dark)

Honestly, there is a lot of info out there on grading and the different profiles of each.  If you want a light tasting syrup, go Light or Grade A.  If you want dark, caramelized, almost-burnt notes, then go with Amber or Grade C.  See the flavor wheel below if you want to pretend that we did this the right way.  There.  Done.  Moving along.

Flavor Wheel for Maple Syrup
This was created by Agriculture Canada. You go Canada, four for you Canada.

I also grabbed an intriguing product known as maple butter.  Contrary to name there is no actual buerre in maple butter, only maple syrup (buerre is French for butter.  #cultured #classybitch #bonjouryall) The name is an ode to the wicked smooth texture (they say wicked up north) which is created in a mad-dash-mega-tempering-candy-making technique.  Like… whoa.  I put some on my english muffin this morning along with actual cows-milk butter for a double butter creamy extravaganza.  Woof.  Helloooooo happiness.

Beurre d'Erable AKA Beurre d'Exquisite
Beurre d’Erable AKA Beurre d’Exquisite

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Life. Changing. Recipes.

And now of course its time for some serious deliciousness.  I know that is why you are all here.  Lez be real.  I have two recipes to share with you this evening (its evening while I am typing this so go with it).  The first is a shweet breakfast treat that features maple syrup alongside more exotic ingredients:

IMGP2346
Toasted Coconut Oatmeal with Tahini and Maple Syrup. Click photo for recipe link.

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The second is a salad with a dressing that I hope highlights Maple Syrup in a more savory way:

IMGP2354
Kale Salad with Maple-Orange-Balsamic Vinaigrette. Click photo for recipe link.

Both of these are Erica originals, with some tweaking advice from my dear family and Frisco (he didn’t actually want to try any but he is an uncooperative asshole sometimes).  Share with your friends and above all, enjoy!

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Now before we go I am curious as to shwhat my devoted fans enjoy their maple syrup on the most.  Vote for your favorite syrup covered breakfast food and see what other avid reader’s had to say! (this is me testing the poll feature… just go with it)

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Well, that about wraps us up.  A big shout out to my sister for her amazing photography skills (she rocks), to my family for always believing in me (they rock), and to Canada for being The Great American Hat, keeping the United States warm since 1867 (it rocks).  My sources are listed below, so check out where all this crazy info came from and get even more learned.

I hope you enjoyed this maiden voyage of United Tastes of Erica.  Tune in next week for an expose (read: me ranting and being ridiculous) on the whoas and woes of…. drum roll please…. PEANUT BUTTER.

Thanks for tuning in.  Bon App y’all.

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Sources de la Info

The all-mighty wiki

Some history VIA other blogger

Grading history

Cornell answers maple syrup questions

Sap flow science 101

Stats n’at

Make your own maple butter instructions

Standards of Maple Identity for NY State

More maple history and facts

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5 thoughts on “#1: The Mighty Maple

  1. I may be biased and all, but I totally laughed my butt off at this post a d thoroughly enjoyed every moment! Can’t wait to see what else you churn out, pretty lady.

    Ps- maple butter is the ISH! I want some.

    1. I’m glad you get my sense of humor! It can be an acquired taste (see what i did there? #foodpun). Hopefully I get to see you soon, keep me posted on your next trip home!

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