Just drive down an old country road in Ontario. Roll down your window and take a deep breath. The wind is brisk, fresh and clean. The air is filled with a sweet lingering mist. Now close your eyes and concentrate. The pervasive aroma wafts across your palate making you run for the nearest pancake house. It’s maple syrup time.
From the mid 16th century to the present, Canadian maple syrup has played an important role in Canadian cuisine. The thick, super sweet golden nectar with a caramelized taste is considered to be an ideal candidate for fine foods because of its rich texture.
From gourmet foods such as maple glazed meats to crème brûlée and rich, sweet snacks like maple ice cream and fudge, Canadian maple syrup had been, and still is, an important ingredient for creating some of our most delicious and cultural dishes.
In Canada, it’s Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia that are maple syrup producing provinces. These four provinces together produce an incredible two-thirds of the world’s supply of maple syrup with the United States supplying the rest.
Maple syrup may be a seasonal harvest that appeals to both kids and adults, but it’s a product that lasts the entire year. You can use it on pancakes as most people do or be creative and use it in your baked goods, appetizers, main meats and desserts. I even came across a maple salad dressing proving that there are no boundaries with this regional treasure.
If you like the flavour of maple in your baked goods, you can substitute 3/4 cup (three quarters) (175 mL) maple syrup plus 1/4 teaspoon (quarter) (1.5 mL) baking soda for each cup (250 mL) of granulated sugar, and reduce another liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons (50 mL).
Maple syrup will keep if left unopened in a cool dark place, but once opened, remember to refrigerate it. If you’re not going to use it for a while, you can freeze it. Maple syrup does not freeze solid because of the high sugar content, but it does become super thick. To use it again, simply let it stand at room temperature for an hour.
When asked about maple foods, many people remember the traditional hot crock of maple baked beans, a holiday treat of maple glazed carrots or the seasonal surprises of maple sticky buns or thick maple French toast. But maple syrup goes into preparing many dishes other than the traditional. A maple barbecue sauce slathered over grilled ribs is more than finger licking good and baked squash with a light brushing of maple syrup is delicious. Many love the flavour of walnuts mixed into maple ice cream, fudge and baked goods and the combination of maple syrup and pumpkin in an autumn cream pie is truly Canadian.
Maple syrup adds a delicate and often light flavour to many foods when basted on before cooking. Pork shish-a-bobs with a maple glaze are divine as are sticky maple coated chicken wings right from the oven and let’s not forget everyone’s favourite, baked ham with a maple glaze. For cheese lovers, try a chunk of Parmesan cheese drizzled with a bit of maple syrup or surprise your taste buds with an exquisite dish of roasted sweet onions, kissed every so lightly with maple syrup and served with Gorgonzola toast.
Ontario’s first harvest of the year is definitely a reason to celebrate. The sap that drips from the regions maple trees each spring is filled with delicious goodness and creates one of the most versatile decadent foods to come out of the province. A pity most people think of it as just something to pour over pancakes.
Maple Roasted Onions and Figs
This is a simple elegant dish with lots of flavour. Serve it as an accompaniment to a thick cut of tender beef or lamb.
6 medium red onions
3 tablespoons (50 mL) extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 figs, halved
¼ cup (quarter) (50 mL) pure maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Quarter the onions but do not peel. In a medium size bowl, stir together the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the onions and stir to coat well. Place them in a shallow baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Add the figs and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle generously with maple syrup. Serves 6.