I am worried about the future of real maple syrup in my life. Between wonky winters like the one we just had and the invasion of Asian longhorned beetle I am in a bit of a panic about whether or not there will be any pure maple syrup to pour over my pancakes, waffles or on top of a bowl of yoghurt in twenty or thirty years. Seriously, what is there that can take the place of maple syrup? Nada, niente, rien.
I grew up in maple sugaring country. I didn’t even know what Aunt Jemima’s was until I was in high school. To me and mine maple syrup tastes like liquid gold and costs nearly as much (prices across New England range from $34-$70/gallon in 2010). Part of the expense is the 40-50 gallons of sap which are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup. Someone has to collect it and then spend hours as well as cords of wood boiling it down until it reaches maple syrupy perfection. If you were to figure in the labor and fuel costs it’s actually cheap, even at those treetop per gallon prices. To justify buying it I tell my kids to make sure they lick their plates clean so none of the syrup goes to waste. If we have company we surreptitiously use our fingers to swipe up every last drop.
In our town of 1600 there are at least two sugar shacks and several families who boil-there-own. It’s a five-mile drive (one way) to get a gallon of milk, but a ten minute walk to buy a gallon of syrup. Our neighbors up the road have been making maple syrup for over forty years. They started off just boiling enough for their family, collecting the sap with a pair of oxen and cooking it down on a fire outside. Over the years they built a sugar shack, changed from collecting sap in buckets to gravity fed plastic tubing, and finally a few years ago switched from heating with wood to propane. Occasionally they celebrate the maple syrup season by inviting the neighbors over for a free pancake breakfast. On those days the line to get into the sugar house can snake half a mile or so down the road with everyone bundled up against the cold and mud which inevitably heralds the running of the sap. To help keep the folks waiting warm Mrs. Bean would send out paper coffee cups filled with Maple Syrup Sundaes.
The first year I gobbled up three maple syrup sundaes they were so good. By the time I got into the sugar shack I was too full to eat any pancakes. Maple Syrup Sundaes are brilliant in their simplicity. Thick and creamy oatmeal drizzled with fresh maple syrup, a handful of dried fruit, and a dollop of whipped cream.
Since I ate my first MMS I’ve played around with the idea and added chopped nuts and wheat germ to my offerings plus I’ve expanded from raisins to a variety of mixed dried fruits (I especially like dried tart cherries and slivers of apricots). The kids root around in the fridge to see if there are any maraschino cherries left over from my food styling jobs so their morning sundaes can look like the ones they get at the local ice cream parlor. I’ve also brought a crock pot full of cooked oatmeal* into winter-cold morning meetings along with a basket full of plastic containers filled with different toppings so people can make their own sundaes. Everyone is always thrilled to have an alternative to bagels and donuts. It doesn’t really matter how you dress it up maple syrup sundaes are a great way to start any day.
Maple Syrup Sundaes
Pure Maple Syrup
Dried Fruit (raisins, currants, apricots, blueberries, cherries, craisins, etc.)
Chopped of Slivered Nuts
Toasted Wheat Germ
Ladle some oatmeal into a bowl and top with your favorite toppings. Enjoy.
*I put steel cut Irish oatmeal into a crock pot the night before to cook on low. Pack up all the fruit, nuts, maple syrup and other toppings along with some spoons and bowls and the next morning you simply need to unplug the crock pot, load it all into the car, and go.