March Food for Thought: March Maple Madness
It's a Yankee tradition. You just need clean snow and a good supply of March gold. Does anyone eat sugar-on-snow anymore? I must say the first time I had the opportunity to sample sugar-on-snow I just didn't get it. Eating a candy-like confection (made by pouring boiling hot, extra thick maple syrup over powdery snow) served with dill pickles and plain doughnuts? That initially sounded crazy, but it's all part of that fantastic traditional New England and Québec culture. Tasting the just-cooked sweet maple taffy and then the sourness from the dill pickles cutting the sweetness of the candy, and then biting into the plain doughnut ... Wow - that's really good. I'm going to start all over from the beginning. With the snow still falling, what a great time of year to gather your friends and family around the sugar shack and enjoy a very memorable regional treat. I'll give you a few tips and suggestions to help you get started, but if you'd made sugar-on-snow before and it's been a while, then get the big pot back on the stove and let's start cooking. As a general rule, I figure about one quart of maple syrup will be about enough for 10 people, plus about 10 plain doughnuts and don't forget a few sour dill pickles. Get a big bucket of clean snow or maybe 10 pie pans filled with snow before you start the cooking process, and lastly give everyone a fork and napkin. Using a large high-sided pot, bring the maple syrup to a boil on high heat and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes or until you reach a temperature of about 232 degrees. Don't be surprised when the maple syrup quadruples in volume when brought to a boil, and it will boil over the pot if it's not high enough so be careful at this stage. Test the correct temperature by dropping a small amount of syrup on snow; if it's not cooked long enough, the syrup will dissolve in the snow. When it is cooked just right the syrup will remain on top of the snow and can be lifted off with a fork. If the sugar gets over-cooked add some water and reheat. Over-cooking the syrup will make the candy too chewy and it has been rumored to remove loose teeth. Sugar-on-snow - cook up a batch - you can't buy it at the store. Steve James is a certified master baker and managing partner at Popovers on the Square in Portsmouth.