This winter has been weird. Not much snow, lots of warmish, spring-like weather. So warm in fact, I had to go check on my spring bulbs today to make sure they weren’t coming up early (they weren’t). But it’s getting closer to maple sugaring time (usually the end of February around here), and while I don’t think we have any sugar maples near our house (or, for that matter, any of the equipment to tap them), I LOVE maple syrup and always try to support local producers.
The best sugaring off time (what maple syruping is called) is in that in-between time of winter and spring where it gets above freezing during the day but below freezing at night. That combination of freeze and thaw temperatures really gets the sap running in trees. If the weather is perfect enough, sugar maple tappers have to be careful not to let the sap overflow the buckets! Real maple syrup is expensive, mainly because it takes so much darn sap to make thick dark maple syrup. It can take over forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.
Some local producers don’t boil theirs down so thick, which I prefer. Thinner syrup soaks into pancakes better and is often a little cheaper. Grade A maple syrup is lighter in color and flavor (and often comes in several sub-grades). Grade B is darker and many people prefer the more pronounced flavor. I like both. Either way, I’m a maple syrup convert and refuse to buy the “maple flavored syrup” or “table syrup” (seriously, look at the packaging next time you’re at the store) anymore. If I can’t afford the real stuff, I just go without.
Know what is fantastic with maple syrup? Pancakes. Yep. And Bacon. Ever dipped your bacon in maple syrup? Try it. You won’t regret it.
Did you know it is really easy to make pancakes from scratch? If you’ve only ever had pancakes from a box or from a restaurant, you’re in for a treat. This is my absolute favorite recipe, which I took pretty much verbatim from the 1970s version of the Joy of Cooking. The pancakes are always fluffy but still fairly substantial and just a little bit sweet. I like them plain as well as with syrup and if I have any leftover (which is rare), I stash a few in the fridge to snack on later. They sometimes even more delicious when cold. And if you’ve added things like chocolate chips or dried fruit, they’re almost more like a soft cookie or tea cake than a pancake.
Joy of Pancakes
If you have a good nonstick pan you can cook/bake these little guys up velvety smooth without any added fat. My nonstick pan went kaput several months ago, so I cooked these on a cast iron skillet with a half tablespoon of butter (or less) for each batch of three pancakes. It gave them a slightly crunchy crust I liked.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 beaten egg
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 to 1 1/4 cups milk
Whisk all dry ingredients together, then add liquid and stir to combine, adding more milk if necessary until desired consistency is reached. Cook over medium heat, flipping when bubbles appear on top. Serve hot with real maple syrup.
This recipe makes approximately a dozen 6 inch pancakes and can easily be doubled to feed a larger crowd.
If you’ve never made bacon in the oven, what the heck are you waiting for? Not only is it easier and less grease-spot inducing to your clothing than cooking it stovetop, you can also cook a ton at once and it stays nice and flat. Don’t forget to save the bacon grease! Pour it off into a ceramic or glass container with a cover and refrigerate. It makes a wonderful addition to beans or cornbread.
1 package bacon, or however much you want/will fit in the pan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a sheet pan with sides lay bacon out in a single layer. Bake 20+ minutes or until bacon is crispy (or however you like it). Remove bacon to drain on paper towels before serving.
And that, my friends, is that. If you wanted to be extra fancy you could fry up some apples in a little of that bacon grease or just pull out a jar of applesauce. You could serve fresh berries with cream or yogurt alongside or fry up some eggs. You could even fresh-squeeze your own orange juice. I was too lazy to go that far, but my oh my were pancakes and bacon good on a chilly, sunny, lazy Sunday morning.
How do you like your pancakes? Have you ever done any maple sugaring?