Temperatures are higher, lost objects are appearing as late winter’s dirty snow melts and I’ve heard reports that some migratory birds have returned.
Posts for rural mailboxes are tilting at ridiculous angles. I am almost ready to put away the candles, flashlights and battery-operated radio, and use the reserve supply of water to wash clothes or water plants.
Spring has arrived, in P.E.I. fashion.
This week’s weather forecast looks promising for maple syrup lovers. On warm days, with temperatures above 0 C and colder nights with temperatures below the freezing point, the sap runs.
Someone made the lucky discovery a long time ago, that sap can be collected from maple trees, and boiled until much of its water evaporates, creating a sweet syrup with a prominent maple flavour. Concentrate it further, and you have maple sugar.
I’ve heard a lot of talk lately concerning how the overconsumption of sugar is contributing to weight gain. I am imagining how different things must have been for First Nations people and early European settlers to North America, for whom maple syrup, one of their few sweeteners, would have been an important and hard-earned luxury.
Collecting the sap and boiling it until it became syrupy (or freezing it repeatedly, and discarding the water which froze before the sweet sap did, as some First Nations people did) was heavy, time-consuming work. The resulting sweet maple syrup would have been a precious commodity, to be savoured and not taken for granted.
Even now, the supply of maple syrup is not assured from year to year. Fickle weather patterns determine how long and how freely the sap will run, and some years there is very little indeed.
Even in years when there’s plenty of maple syrup to be had, maple syrup is relatively expensive because of the work and fuel required to transform watery, slightly sweet sap into richly flavoured amber syrup.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that if expensive, hard-to-produce maple syrup was our only sweetener, it wouldn’t take long for us to stop consuming sweets mindlessly. It would be used far more judiciously than we use the ubiquitous granulated sugar.
If you are lucky enough to have a little stash of pure Island maple syrup, there are plenty of ways to use it, either drizzled over pancakes, waffles, yogurt or cake or as an ingredient in savoury or sweet dishes.
This recipe produces a dessert that is sweet and rich enough that it is best served in tiny portions.
The recipe does not state how warm the maple syrup should be heated. I heated it until it was steamy, but not boiling.
Mousse à l’Érable
Adapted from Semenak, Susan: “Market Chronicles: Stories & Recipes from Montreal’s Marché Jean-Talon.” Éditions Cardinal, Montreal, 2011.
7 mL (1 1/2 tsp) powdered unflavoured gelatin (half an envelope)
250 mL (1 cup) maple syrup
180 mL (3/4 cup) whipping cream
maple sugar and maple syrup, for garnish (optional)
In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin evenly over 25 mL (2 tbsp) of water and stir until dissolved.
In a small saucepan, warm maple syrup. Slowly add gelatin, stirring to combine thoroughly. Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes, until cool but not chilled enough to set.
With a hand mixer, whip cream until stiff peaks form. Measure 50 mL (1/4 cup) of whipped cream for garnish and set aside in refrigerator. Using a spatula, gently but thoroughly fold remaining whipped cream into cooled maple mixture.
Spoon into 60 mL (2 oz) shot glasses and refrigerate at least 90 minutes or until set. Top with a spoonful of whipped cream, a sprinkle of maple sugar, and a drizzle of maple syrup and serve.
Makes 10 servings
When it’s time to get the barbecue out, you might try this spicy-sweet way to serve salmon.
Spicy Maple Salmon
From Mavis, Ross & Willa: “Outdoor Cooking from Tide’s Table.” Goose Lane Editions, Fredericton, 2000.
250 mL (1 cup) maple syrup
1 small onion, chopped
30 mL (2 tbsp) apple cider vinegar
30 mL (2 tbsp) Worcestershire Sauce
5 to 10 mL (1 to 2 tsp) hot pepper sauce
5 mL (1 tsp) dry mustard
5 mL (1 tsp) salt
4 175 g (1/3 lb) boneless salmon fillets, with skin
Preheat barbecue to medium hot.
Prepare sauce by combining everything except salmon in a small pan over medium heat. Stir until mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer for about 4-5 minutes. Sauce can be cooled and refrigerated in a sealed container for about 10 days.
Oil grill, and place salmon fillets skin-side up. Close barbecue lid, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Carefully turn fillets, and, using a pastry or barbecue brush, paint maple syrup mixture on salmon. Close lid, and cook 3-4 minutes more, watching for flare-ups. Fish is ready when it flakes easily when prodded with a fork. Turn off barbecue, lift fillets from grill and serve on a warmed platter.
Makes 4 servings
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.