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Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 03:54 pm

Something sappy

Maple syrup-making time means spring can’t be far behind

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Untitled Document Drip, drip, drip . . . It was late February. After a long, cold winter, it was first day to hint that spring was on the way. Drip, drip, drip . . . It had been below freezing overnight, but by noon the sun was warm. Drip, drip, drip . . . I took my then-4-year-old daughter, Ashley, outside to enjoy the beautiful sunny day, the most extended outdoor excursion we’d had since we’d built a snowman a few weeks before. Drip, drip, drip . . . We looked around to see where the drips were coming from. It hadn’t rained the night before. The blue sky was completely cloudless. Drip, drip, drip . . . Where were those drips coming from? We could hear them all around us. Eventually they landed on our arms. Before I could stop her, Ashley touched her tongue to a droplet. “It’s kind of sweet!” she said. Of course — the sap was flowing. When we moved into our old farmhouse, there were 22 sugar maples on our 2.5 acres. The trees weren’t an unalloyed pleasure; there was little space on our wooded lot for the garden we wanted. Even so, when fall turned the trees into a canopy of shimmering gold and later, when more cardinals than we could count perched on their snow-covered branches, we weren’t complaining. Drip, drip, drip . . . Always eager to expose my children to new experiences, I said to my daughter, “Remember when we went to Lincoln Memorial Garden and saw them making syrup? Well, we can do the same thing with our own trees. Let’s go there and buy some taps so we can make our own.”
Little did I know what I’d let myself in for. On that sunny day we purchased about three dozen taps (large trees can support multiple taps) and set out to make our own syrup. We tapped the trees, cleaned plastic gallon jugs to hang on the taps, and watched as the sap dripped steadily into them. The next morning, all of the jugs were filled to overflowing. “This is great!” I thought. I knew that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. “We’ll have enough syrup to last us all year.” We dumped the slightly sweet watery liquid into big pots, put the jugs back on the taps, and brought the pots into the kitchen to boil down. By midafternoon, the sap was nowhere near becoming syrup, and when I looked outside I could see that the jugs were once again filled to overflowing.
I’d opened a Pandora’s box. Ashley and our two older children were initially thrilled to help bring in the sap, but their enthusiasm quickly faded as, day after day, they had to lug in jug after jug. Our old farmhouse kitchen wasn’t up to the task, either. There wasn’t an exhaust fan over the stove, and the syrup literally boiled the finish off the old kitchen cabinets. We didn’t have any problems with lack of humidity, though.
I think we ended up with about five gallons of syrup that first year. All of our friends — and even some folks we didn’t know all that well — benefited. We never again made maple syrup on quite that scale, and over the years age and disease have decimated the sugar maples on our property. Every spring, however, I still listen for that drip, drip, drip . . . because it’s a sure sign that spring is on its way. Maybe this year I’ll just tap one tree, for old times’ sake.
ROASTED PORK LOIN WITH
MUSTARD-MAPLE GLAZE


3 to 4 pounds boneless pork loin, trimmed of excess fat 2 cups buttermilk One large white onion, thinly sliced or diced 2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt 3/4 cup plus 1/2 cup pure maple syrup, divided One bunch fresh sage leaves or rosemary, thyme, or marjoram Freshly ground pepper 1 tablespoon bacon fat or vegetable oil 1/2 cup stone-ground or Dijon mustard
Two days before you plan to serve the pork, combine the buttermilk, onion, salt, 3/4 cup maple syrup, and sage or other herbs in a large resealable plastic bag. Squish the bag with your hands to dissolve the salt and combine the syrup and buttermilk. Add the pork loin and seal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Refrigerate for two days, turning the bag occasionally. Remove the bag from the refrigerator three hours before you plan to start cooking the pork to allow the meat to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Heat the bacon fat in a large ovenproof skillet and swirl it to coat the bottom of the pan, then pour off the excess. Drain the marinade from the meat and pat the meat dry with paper towels, then sprinkle it liberally with freshly ground pepper. Brown the meat on all sides in the skillet over moderately high heat, then put the meat, uncovered, in the oven. After 45 minutes, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of maple syrup and the mustard. Brush the meat with some of the mixture. Repeat every 15 minutes until the mixture is used up, then continue to baste with the pan juices. Roast until a thermometer inserted halfway into the thickest part of the meat registers 150 degrees. Total cooking time will be between one-and-a-half and two hours. Let the roast stand for 15 minutes, then slice thinly and serve with the pan juices. Serves six to eight. Leftovers make great sandwiches.  

Send questions and comments to Julianne Glatz at realcuisine@insightbb.com.
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