Maple Syrup On My Mind

Editor’s Note: Bee Smith writes from Ireland, where she cooks and gardens organically. She’s lived in the British Isles for many years.

I am often asked if I miss living in the States. Well, I’ve made my home here and home is home! But there are few things that until the last few years have been hard to get and I do tend to stock up on on visits back Stateside.  I stock up on tinned (canned) pumpkin and maple syrup.

I also miss maple trees.  Regular readers of my posts have probably got the message that I am a certified tree hugger.  I love trees. We plant them on our land.  We photograph them.  We didn’t actually wassail the apple trees this year but it might happen yet.

But maple trees do not thrive here are our highly acidic soil.  This is a cause for sadness. Somehow a little Japanese acer in a pot doesn’t quite give me the jolt of nostalgic happiness that is delivered at the sight of a sugar maple.

Lehman's Delicious Maple Syrup

Lehman’s Delicious Maple Syrup

We’ve had discussions about trees recently, because I would like to plant one in memory of my mother.  Dogwood was my first choice and then maple, but Tony shakes his head and says the Irish climate won’t really do for either of these.  So we are compromising on birch.  I have fond memories of sucking on the curled bits of bark as a child. Pennsylvania, where I grew up, also sold birch beer, a variant on root beer, in the supermarkets when I was a kid and it was a favourite, too.

Birch trees can be tapped for syrup so I am, in a rather lazy way, wondering how long you have to wait for a tree to mature before you might tap it for syrup.  Probably a long time and I’ll be ancient  by that time and hobbling around.

So I am grateful for maple syrup.  They say smell is a great memory prodder, but I also think taste must be a very close run contender.

When I eat oatmeal porridge I like it with maple syrup.  I use maple syrup on my classic American pancakes that I make for my niece when she visits.  Maple syrup is also a wonderful sweetener that can be substituted for honey.

For instance, I make a spelt soda bread that calls for honey as a sweetener, but I substitute maple syrup and it just enhances the mildly nutty taste of this ancient grain.   It’s a dawdle (that’s Irish for “very easy”) to make and is great with soup.  It’s the sort of thing that you can rustle up in a trice for visitors and they think you are a kitchen goddess!

Spelt Soda Bread

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup whole meal spelt flour
1 cup white spelt flour
1/3 cup porridge oats (rolled oats)
1/3 cup oat bran
1/3 cup pin head oats/oat groats
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 tsp salt

In a medium mixing bowl, stir the dry ingredients together and make a well.

Wet Ingredients:
Pour in 1 cup buttermilk, 1 TBSP maple syrup and a beaten egg.

Stir the mix.  It’s a bit sticky, but don’t worry about it. Leave it for 5 minutes to let the  buttermilk and soda get better acquainted and start their collaboration. Pour into a 1 lb loaf tin.

3-Tree Sap Collection Kit

3-Tree Sap Collection Kit

Bake in an oven at 400° F (or Gas Mark 6). Check after 30 minutes, but it usually takes a bit longer.  You’ll know your own oven’s little peculiarities.

Maple syrup is also a great substitute for honey or sugar in cake recipes, especially Spice Cake recipes.  A simple cream cheese frosting makes it a crowd pleaser.  Because you have cut out or cut down on the sugar component in your recipe you are using a ‘lower burning’ sugar than the refined white product which tends to take energy levels high and then plummet.

Either way, this time of year my thoughts turn to those intrepid smallholders who are out tapping the trees and extracting their delicious sap. The sap is rising so Spring must not be far away.

Which is my cue to start thinking about the garden!

About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.