Tinky’s Kitchen: Celebrate Maple Month with these maple-themed recipes

  • Tinky Weisblat prepares green salad with maple-balsamic vinaigrette in her Hawley home. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tinky Weisblat prepares green salad with maple-balsamic vinaigrette in her Hawley home. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tinky Weisblat’s favorite salad to pair her maple-balsamic vinaigrette with includes crumbled cheese and dried cranberries, though you can also add red onion, chopped hard-boiled egg or chopped bell peppers. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tinky Weisblat likes to serve her maple-baked feta with homemade crostini she makes using small, store-bought baguettes. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tinky Weisblat likes to serve her maple-baked feta with homemade crostini she makes using small, store-bought baguettes. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tinky Weisblat adds olive oil to the maple-baked feta she is making in her Hawley home. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder
Published: 3/12/2019 2:53:48 PM

Massachusetts Maple Month has arrived, and local farmers are working more or less around the clock to turn the sap that flows from maple trees in spring into the sweet elixir that New Englanders prize year-round.

Every time I drive to Greenfield these days, I pass a sign at Hager’s Farm Market luring me with the promise of fried dough topped with maple cream on Saturday. I am trying to resist temptation!

Fortunately, most of my own culinary uses for maple syrup do not involve the extreme sweetness of fried dough or even pancakes. I love to use maple to add a slight sweetness to foods like salad dressings, coleslaw, pork and even cheese.

I also love to contemplate maple’s place in American history. Colonists learned of its sweet bounty from Native Americans; in early colonial times, maple syrup and sugar were significantly less expensive than imported sugar from cane.

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), a prominent Pennsylvania physician and scholar who was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence, promoted maple over cane sugar not because of maple’s price, but because of its means of production. Cane sugar was made by slaves, and Rush was an abolitionist.

Other abolitionists took up the cause of maple, too. Thomas Jefferson, who despite his own slave holdings opposed slavery in principle, fell in love with the idea of maple as an alternative to cane sugar.

“What a blessing,” he wrote in 1790, “to substitute a sugar which requires only the labour of children, for that which it is said renders the slavery of the blacks unnecessary.”

Our local maple sugarers could have told Jefferson that successful sugar production requires labor from more than children, but his heart was in the right place. He believed that maple production was a perfect occupation for the “yeoman farmer” he saw as the American ideal.

The sugar maples Jefferson planted at Monticello died; the climate of southern states proved dicey for producing maple syrup.

As sugar became less and less expensive over the decades, even hardy New Englanders (unless they were strict abolitionists) changed over to cane sugar as their primary sweetener. Maple was increasingly viewed as it is today: as an expensive and highly prized specialty food.

Maple played a part again in American history in the early 20th century in the campaign that led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Maple syrup was among the products for which many false claims were made before manufacturers were held accountable by that law.

C.C. Regier noted in a 1933 article, “More than ten times the amount of Vermont maple syrup was sold every year than that state could produce.” Happily, if something is labeled “pure maple syrup” today, the labeling is accurate.

We are lucky to live in an area where we can purchase pure maple syrup from neighbors and visit working sugarhouses. Here are a couple of recipe ideas to help readers celebrate maple month at home. Neither takes a huge amount of syrup, but both take full advantage of maple’s robust flavor.

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

I have prepared many variations on this recipe over the years. Sometimes I change the proportions, using a little less olive oil in relation to the syrup and vinegar. Sometimes I change up the vinegar (local cider vinegar from Apex Orchards works beautifully). It’s always good and always easy.

My favorite salad to pair with this vinaigrette is a bunch of greens along with crumbled cheese and dried cranberries. Add whatever you like to this: red onion, chopped hard-boiled egg, a chopped bell peppers, etc.

Ingredients:

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ tsp. Dijon mustard

2 T water

½ tsp. salt (plus a little more if needed; taste before you add it)

Pepper to taste

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients except the oil; then slowly whisk in the oil. This dressing may be kept in the refrigerator for a month or longer; just be sure to bring it to room temperature and shake it before serving. Makes about 1½ cups.

Maple-Baked Feta

The recipe for this tasty appetizer comes from the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. I like to serve it with homemade crostini I make with small, store-bought baguettes.

To make the crostini, I slice the bread thinly, rub it with a minimal amount of olive oil on each side and sprinkle salt on one side. I then bake the crackers for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven, turning them once.

Ingredients:

2 T extra virgin olive oil

1 6-oz. block feta cheese (it’s hard to find a 6-oz. block; use part of a large block if necessary)

¼ cup golden raisins

A generous helping of fresh rosemary

Freshly ground pepper

¼ cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle half of the olive oil in the bottom of a small baking dish. (I use a brie baker from the potter Jeanne Douillard of Greenfield.)

Cut the feta so that it is relatively thin and covers most of the surface of the baker. Sprinkle the raisins, rosemary leaves and pepper over all, then top with the maple syrup and the remaining oil.

Bake until everything is bubbly and one or two raisins are starting to burn. This process can be tricky; you don’t want your dish to blacken, but you do want the cheese to soften.

Let the mixture cool slightly before serving it with crackers or crostini. Serve it with a spoon, and make sure that each little helping gets a bit of everything: cheese, raisins, rosemary and juice. This cheese dish may also be served on the side of a green salad. Serves four to six.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.




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