Maple syrup time

Not just for pancakes. It's good on salmon, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts too.

click to enlarge Maple miso Brussels sprouts - PHOTO BY ANN SHAFFER GLATZ
photo by ann Shaffer glatz
Maple miso Brussels sprouts

It was one of those times in February when the night was frigid but the afternoon was warm, when the sky changed from grey to blue and the sun had melted the morning frost. I was walking my dog through the woods behind my old house when I felt what I thought were tiny droplets of rain landing upon my head. I was surprised because there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but then I realized I was beneath an old sugar maple tree and was experiencing the season's first flow of sap. Maple syrup season had arrived.

As the cold weather eases, sugar maple trees begin the process of turning stored starch into sugar. When temperatures rise about 40 degrees during the day but dip below freezing at night, the daily fluctuation leads to bursts of pressure inside the tree, causing the sap to flow.

The sap flowing in the sugar maple is mostly water, and only about 2% sugar. When the sap is collected and boiled down to evaporate away the water, maple syrup is created. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. Maple syrup season in central Illinois typically begins in mid-February or March, and lasts from four to six weeks.

Thousands of years ago, the indigenous people of the northeastern part of the United States and eastern Canada discovered that the sap of the maple tree was slightly sweet, and they started collecting it to create sugar. Prior to European colonization, sap was their only source of sweetener. To harvest sap, the early Native Americans used stone tools to make gashes in the tree trunk and fashioned collection containers from birchbark stitched together with basswood fibers or spruce roots. The collected sap was poured into wooden troughs made from sections of hollowed-out logs and the water was evaporated off by placing heated rocks taken directly from a fire into the trough. The European settlers adopted the technique from the indigenous tribes and streamlined the process by using augers to make drain holes and metal pots to boil off the water. During the late 17th and 18th centuries, maple sap was the primary source of sweetener in North America because cane sugar was very expensive and had to be imported from the Caribbean.

Over the last 400 years, maple syrup production has evolved from a winter survival food to a luxury item. Nowadays, maple syrup is most commonly thought of as a condiment for pancakes, waffles, French toast and oatmeal. However, most pancake syrups sold are highly processed products made from corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup with artificial maple flavorings and potentially carcinogenic caramel colors. Real maple syrup is made from just one ingredient and has a clean, complex toasty, floral flavor with hints of vanilla, caramel and prune.

When I lived in the old farmhouse, each February I'd tap about a dozen trees and collect enough sap to make several quarts of syrup. As a dentist, I've always lobbied against high-sugar breakfasts, so pancakes and waffles were only occasional indulgences. I gave away most of the season's maple syrup as gifts, but I'd often use maple syrup in savory recipes as a somewhat healthier substitute for cane sugar. While comparable to granulated sugar in calories and carbs, maple syrup has a lower glycemic index, and because it tends to be sweeter and more flavorful, less is needed. I like to use maple syrup in glazes, sauces and vinaigrettes for meat, poultry, fish and vegetables.

Salmon glazed with maple syrup, orange and ginger

4 servings

Ingredients

1½ pounds of salmon, cut into 4 portions

½ cup orange juice

1 clove garlic, grated

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated

cup maple syrup

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pat dry and lightly salt the salmon.

Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and lightly coat with a little oil or cooking spray.

In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice, garlic and ginger and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the maple syrup and simmer for 5 minutes more until the glaze becomes syrupy.

Place the salmon on the tray and brush with half of the glaze.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily with a fork.

Use the remaining glaze to serve over salmon.

Maple miso Brussels sprouts

The caramelly taste of maple syrup is a perfect foil for the bitter bite of Brussels sprouts.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 lbs. Brussels sprouts

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons white miso

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon tamari

¼ teaspoon chili flakes

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut Brussels sprouts in half or quarters, depending on size, and place in a bowl.

In a medium bowl, combine the olive oil, miso, maple syrup, tamari, chili flakes, and pepper. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss to coat.

Spread spouts evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast for 40 minutes, tossing occasionally, until nicely browned.

Roasted sweet potato salad with maple tahini dressing

4 servings

Ingredients

2 large or 3 small sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), cut into ½-inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup maple tahini dressing (recipe below)

¼ cup chopped dill (optional)

Preparation

Position racks on top and bottom third of the oven. Place 2 sheet trays on the racks and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss sweet potatoes in a large bowl with the oil; season with salt and pepper. Spread out half of sweet potato cubes in a single layer on each sheet tray. Roast, turning halfway through, until golden brown, but not mushy, about 40 minutes. Allow to cool.

Gently combine the sweet potatoes with the maple tahini dressing. Garnish with chopped dill, if desired.

Maple tahini dressing

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Ingredients

1/2 cup tahini, well-mixed

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon sea salt

1-2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, to taste

Preparation

In a food processor, combine the tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt, and process for 4-6 minutes, until the mixture lightens in color. With the motor running, gradually add 1/2 to 1 cup of water, processing until the mixture develops the consistency of mayonnaise. The mixture will seize at first before emulsifying into a smooth spread. Stir in 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasoning by adding more syrup, lemon juice or salt. Store in a lidded container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Peter Glatz is spending the winter in Florida. He especially enjoys listening to Springfield weather reports on WUIS while he is cooking freshly caught local fish for dinner.

About The Author

Peter Glatz

After the passing of his wife, Julianne (former Illinois Times food columnist), Peter Glatz decided to retire from a 40-year career as a dentist to reinvent himself as a chef at the age of 66. In his short culinary career, he has worked at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Elizabeth Restaurant, Oklahoma City’s Nonesuch...

Illinois Times has provided readers with independent journalism for more than 40 years, from news and politics to arts and culture.

Now more than ever, we’re asking for your support to continue providing our community with real news that everyone can access, free of charge.

We’re also offering a home delivery option as an added convenience for friends of the paper.

Click here to subscribe, or simply show your support for Illinois Times.

Got something to say?
Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment