An individual maple tree can be tapped one to three times per year (depending on how big the diameter of its trunk is), producing up to 13 gallons of sap every one to two month harvesting season. Maple trees keep the starch inside their roots and trunk before winter sets in which is then later converted to sugar that appears in the tree's sap in winter and early spring.
It is the starchy sugar that makes maple syrup so characteristically sweet. In order to turn sap into sugar, it's heated and boiled to evaporate the excess water, with the concentrated syrup remaining. Sugar shacks were set up for this process, and those were also available for viewing in small Vermont and Canadian towns. I imagine they still are.
Want to know more about the history of Maple Syrup? Read "Tapping into the history of maple syrup" at Chronically Vintage.
What to do with maple syrup? Well, growing up, maple syrup at our house came in a little crock and was only used to pour over waffles and pancakes. But Maple Syrup is actually a great item to have in your pantry and can be used in lots of ways. Maple syrup is a healthy alternative to sugar in many baked goods and desserts.
Substitute an equal amount of maple syrup for sugar.
For each cup of syrup, reduce the quantity of liquid ingredients in the recipe (water, milk, juice) by about a quarter of a cup.
Maple syrup can also serve as a one-to-one substitution for other liquid sweeteners, such as honey, molasses and corn syrup.
And, with the holidays coming up, here are two great recipes to make and give or serve: Chocolate Maple Syrup and Chocolate Maple Truffles.
CHOCOLATE MAPLE SYRUP
1-1/2 cups pure maple syrup
4 Tbsp unsweetened DARK cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chopped
Pinch of salt
Heat maple syrup in small sturdy saucepan over moderate heat until hot.
Whisk in cocoa powder, butter, and pinch of salt. Turn down to simmer and whisk for a minute.
Serve syrup warm.
Syrup keeps, covered and chilled, 1 week.
CHOCOLATE MAPLE SYRUP TRUFFLES
This recipe is from the Pure Canadian Maple Syrup site.
Ingredients for Centers
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 cups dates, pitted and chopped
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp orange juice, just squeezed
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier or other liqueur optional
Ingredients for Coating
8 ounces premium quality bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
To prepare the centers, melt 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate in double boiler over gently simmering water until completely melted, stirring only once or twice. Set aside.
Chop dates by hand, so they're not sticky (can become sticky if you use a food processor) If you are using food processor, place pecans in with the dates and pulse.
Add melted chocolate, Maple syrup, orange juice and liqueur; pulse until mixture just comes together. Alternatively, you can mix the ingredients together by hand in a medium mixing bowl.
To form and coat truffles, prepare coating:
Melt remaining 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate over double boiler of gently simmering water and cool to about 90°. While chocolate is cooling, form truffles. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Form truffles into small tiny bite sized balls. Place cookie sheet of truffles to left of you. Place melted chocolate in front of you and have sifted cocoa to right of you To far right have cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and or paper truffle cups ready to place coated truffles.