Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Solving a Sweet Mystery

Calling Mother Nature
It’s my fault it’s snowing on the snow tires I had removed yesterday, or so says Mother Nature when I give her a wake-up call.

“Who’s calling at this ungodly hour?” she demands groggily. To her credit she listens to my ensuing diatribe patiently and silently and only then does she have her say.

“I think,” she says regally – the way I love her most – “that you forget yourself! AND you forget 1997 when there was snow well into April. AND you forget to write about the mysteries of sugaring. So get on about your business, Child, THEN I’ll see about getting up; THEN we’ll talk about fiddleheads and tulips.” With that she replaces the receiver ever so gently.

I stand openmouthed and chastened as the rainy snow pours down outside and the world seems to shiver; and I think it must be SHE, lying down again and shrugging her blanket of last year’s leaves back over her shoulders. Still carrying the phone, I return to the computer beast and begin dialing.


... Ginette Turgeon

“Ginette,” I said, “would you please give me the recipe for that handsome, double-crusted Maple Raisin Pie you made for the pie auction a few years ago?” She said she would, and not long after we hung up she tapped on my door with that recipe and another one, too. “We always called this just Maple Syrup Grandfather,” she said. It was a very simple recipe – dumplings cooked in maple syrup, which sounded yummy, kind of like the doughnuts sugarers are reputed to boil in syrup right in the sugar shacks, but I was especially intrigued by the name. Ginette, who is French Canadian, didn’t know if it was a French, a Canadian, or just a family name.

... Bonnie Baird

Bonnie Baird of Baird Farm in Chittenden, told me that, thus far, she and her husband Bob have produced over 1200 gallons of maple syrup this spring, which is their average complete year’s output.

Wha...? I thought. I’d heard we’d be lucky to get half of last year’s crop! It was snowing and, though my thermometer read 40 degrees, it would drop below freezing that night. “We’re still sugaring,” said Bonnie, “but we’re on borrowed time. It should be over.”

Then she added, “We haven’t produced any fancy grade A syrup this year, no one has!” She told me that some blame the lack of that first high-sugar sap on the invasion of tent-caterpillars last summer, but Bonnie and Bob have come to a different conclusion: “Remember how December and January were very warm? Well, we think that the trees began to bud then, and that’s when you get that sap, but since we weren’t tapping then, we missed it. Everything is out of synch!”

Bonnie gave me a recipe for her favorite Maple Walnut Pie, and a promise of a Pear and Cranberry Pie recipe for a column next fall. But she had never heard of a recipe called Maple Syrup Grandfather.

You can check out Bonnie & Bob’s website at www.bairdfarm.com where you’ll be pleased to find, among other nice features, a gallery of Bonnie’s fine, evocative landscapes which can be ordered as note cards.

... Betty Ann Lockhart

I knew Betty Ann and her husband, Don, who own Perceptions, Inc, a media company, knew a lot of northern sugar makers and were working with the Vermont Maple Festival, www.vermontmaplefestival.org, which will be holding its 41st annual event April 27-29 in St. Albans. Antique show, arts and crafts exhibits, cooking demos, you name it they’ve got it. Betty Ann is looking forward to one event in particular. That’s Ways of the Woods: People and the Land in the Northern Forest. “It’s an 18-wheeler, brought to town by the Northern Forest Center, with a grant from National Endowment for the Humanities, and it offers interactive exhibits exploring forest culture and heritage across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York through crafts, music and story-telling. It’s an amazing thing in itself.”

“Have you ever heard of Maple Syrup Grandfather?” I asked her. She hadn’t, but she did know of a recipe called Gramma Myott’s Biscuits And Syrup, in which biscuits are laid in boiling syrup and baked. She would, however, ask around.

...Monsieur Google

In the meantime, I searched the web and put out some feelers on a few blogs and threads. Well, back came an answer -- Grandperes au Sirop d’Erable, which, with my execrable French, I make out as Grandfathers of the Syrup of the Maple, made almost the same way except the dough must be thicker, as it is formed by hand into cakes. Apparently not a family recipe but a genuine national tradition. I did not exactly find out why it’s called Grandperes, but there were a few hunches. One writer guessed, “Who gets to stand around and tend the fire as the sugar boils down? That's right, Grandpa. He's too old and creaky in the joints to fetch the sap buckets or firewood (or so he says) so, as he boils the sugar down (didja notice that all the recipes called for diluting the syrup) he pops the dumplings in and pulls them out with the skimmer when they're done.”

Another blogger said, “I've been reading Quebecois recipe sites, and the only explanation for the name I've come across is that Grandpere could eat the dumplings even if he didn't have teeth.”

Taking a gander at this recipe, sugarer Larry Myott of Ferrisburg, thought that the brown sugar that was called for was probably, originally, maple sugar.

So there we have it, Mystery Solved.

One final note: Just as we go to press, here, sugarers are calling to say that for some reason they are just, at the hinder of the season, getting Fancy Grade A Syrup. Uh oh, another mystery.

... Two Pies & a Grandfather

Ginette Turgeon’s MAPLE RAISIN PIE

In a saucepan combine ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 ½ cups maple syrup and 1 cup raisins, bring to a steady but not roiling boil and keep it there for 10 minutes. Pour into a 9” pastry-lined pie pan and finish with a top crust. Bake at 375 degrees until the crust is golden, about 35 to 40 minutes.


In a deep and wide saucepan combine 3 cups maple syrup, 1 cup water and a pinch of salt and bring to a low boil and boil for 10 minutes.

Mix up the dumplings: 2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, ½ cup butter and ¾ cup milk.

When the syrup is ready turn the heat down until you get a nice active simmer and drop the dough by tablespoons on top, cover, and continue to simmer for 20 minutes without removing the cover.


Combine 1 cup maple syrup, 4 beaten eggs, ½ cup sugar, 1/3 cup melted butter and 1 1/3 cup chopped walnuts. Pour into a single pie crust, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes, covered with a piece of foil; uncover and bake another 25 minutes.

... And Grandmother, Too


Put two cups maple syrup in a 9x9 inch baking pan and heat it to almost boiling. [this can be done in the oven] Make your favorite biscuits, cut them out, and lay 9 of them into the syrup. Bake in a 400 degree oven until browned.

Dumplings or biscuits could be served with ice cream, beside a baked apple or poached pear, or perched on top of homemade chocolate pudding made with a good, dark chocolate.

Suddenly I feel a twinge of conscience – I have NOT tested any of these recipes for the reason that if I made them I would eat them – all of them!

Because, My! Don’t they sound good!

This column was first published in the Rutland (Vermont) Herald in April, 2007