It’s maple syrup season! Not just for breakfast, maple syrup is delicious used in home made barbecue sauces, marinades, salad dressings, and in place of sugar. Here is the 411 on maple syrup:
How is it made? Syrup is made by reducing the clear sap that is tapped from maple trees into a high concentration sugar suspended in water. When the maple sap is harvested, it is a watery liquid (not thick and sticky). This sap is mostly water, about two percent sugar (with some impurities). The sap is then boiled until much of the water has evaporated. During the boiling, impurities rise to the top and are skimmed off (like making a stock). Once enough water has evaporated so that the sugar content exceeds 67%, the sweet liquid is considered maple syrup. The lightness of color and strength of flavor is dependent mainly upon when the maple syrup was harvested and the weather and growing conditions of the maple trees for that year. Typically, lighter syrups are harvested earlier in the season.
Maple syrup is made in “sugar houses.” These small wooden structures are generally located at the lowest elevation of the sugarbushes (the name for groves of sugar maple trees).
The time is now. The syrup season can last anywhere from about 2 to as many as 8 weeks but 4-6 weeks is the norm, usually sometime February – April. When the sugar maple trees begins to sprout buds, the season is over, as the syrup loses it maple flavor.
See syrup in action. In the U.S., New York, New England and Ohio are hotbeds for maple syrup houses (Canada is also a major producer) – you can find out more and learn about local sugar house tours on the following sites: New York State Maple Producers Association (www.nysmaple.com), VisitingNewEngland.com (www.visitingnewengland.com), and Ohio Maple Producers (www.ohiomapleproducers.com).
Maple syrup grade. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) assigns grades to the maple syrup sold in the the U.S. These grades are: Grade A Light Amber, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B.
Grade A Light Amber (or Fancy) is very light in color and has a faint, delicate maple flavor. It is usually made earlier in the season when the weather is colder. Many people use this grade for serving on pancakes. It is also widely used for making maple candies.
Grade A Medium Amber is darker and has an easily discernible maple flavor.
Grade A Dark Amber is very dark and has a strong maple flavor. This grade is mostly used for cooking and baking.
Grade B, sometimes called Cooking Syrup, is extremely dark in color and has an extremely strong maple taste as well as hints of caramel. Because of its strong flavor, this is predominantly used in baked goods.
Storage. Maple syrup should be refrigerated to ensure freshness (even if the bottle hasn’t been opened). You can also freeze maple syrup to extend its life indefinitely. If the syrup is refrigerated in glass containers, then the syrup will maintain quality for a year. Plastic bottles are a little porous, so refrigerator shelf life is usually around three to four months. If you need to store syrup purchased in plastic bottles for longer term storage, pour it into a glass bottle or jar and refrigerate.
Use as a sugar substitute. In general, maple syrup can be substituted for granular sugar in baked goods by following these rules of thumb:
For each cup of granulated sugar, use 1-1/2 cup of maple syrup.
Reduce other liquids in the recipe by about one-half.
Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of maple syrup.
Decrease oven temperature by 25°F.
Here are just a few of Rach’s recipes that feature maple syrup: