How sweet it is

Living in Vermont has many perks. Some of my favorites are:

  • Lush, hot summers swimming in cold, fast rivers
  • Buying Ben and Jerry’s seconds at reduced prices because they’re the end of the batch and therefore contain “too many” heath bar crumbles
  • Farmer’s markets with an amazing array of fresh and prepared foods, live music and happy people

But when it comes to this time of year, as the earth starts to remember spring and the midday sun begins to melt the frozen layer of dirt, creating the love-hate relationship with what we know as mud season, the best thing about Vermont is undeniably the maple syrup.

I never liked the syrup we ate at home as a child. Then I discovered that the voluptuous glass lady with the kerchief on her head was merely a fraudulent broad trying to pass herself off as the real golden diva. Once I’d tried the real thing, I never looked back.

It wasn’t until my 20′s when I was a professional chef at a country boarding high school that I got a chance to stand in the snow, strain the bugs from maple sap in an aluminum bucket and then drink it. I felt like a native American. After helping to haul gallons of it to the invitingly warm and steamy sugar shack and watch it bubble into maple syrup, that first fingerful of amber liquid as it filtered through a piece of flannel became my archetype for the hope of spring’s return, mother nature and all culinary miracles.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cook and bake the things that maple syrup so well adorns, like pancakes and french toast, but also to create recipes that delight and surprise my palate, my family and my personal chef clients. Some of my favorite ways to use it are:

  • To sweeten salad dressings, especially balsamic vinaigrette
  • As a glaze for salmon or chicken with mustard and apple cider
  • In barbecue sauce instead of brown sugar
  • With vinegar and chili flakes as a sweet and sour sauce for tofu
  • To sweet drinks like herbal tea, coffee and soda water
  • With walnuts over Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream

This will be our third year tapping our two sugar maple trees which have given us a gallon of syrup each of the last two years. Like many aspects of life here on earth with its real and metaphorical hills and valleys, the pain and muddled mess of mud season is balanced out somehow by the joy, simple deliciousness of maple syrup.

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