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A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Coombs Family Farms, an organic farm in Vermont that specializes in “all things maple,” to see if I’d like to sample some of their syrup. Since maple syrup is a well-loved staple in my kitchen and many of my baked goods feature it as a key sweetener, I was delighted to accept their offer and eagerly awaited the package.
A few days later, I received this:
A bottle of their certified organic syrup, along with a maple-leaf shaped piece of maple candy!
Anyone who’s ever consumed real maple syrup can attest to its unique flavor–sweet, slightly smoky, with an appealing, earthy aroma. Made from the sap of maple trees, it’s naturally rich in minerals (per volume, higher in calcium than dairy milk!). The syrup is available for purchase in three grades of A (light, medium and dark) and one of B–each darker and more intensely flavored than the last. I was sent a bottle of grade B, an intense, soulful auburn that was so thick and deep it was nearly opaque. As soon as I removed the cap, the maple perfume escaped to envelop the room with that distinctive scent.
Now, I’ve enjoyed maple syrup for many years. Like pretty much everyone raised in Quebec–the heart of Canada’s maple country–I consider myself a maple aficionado, if not an expert. Maple syrup is ubiquitous in La Belle Province: you can find it on every checkered tablecloth in every greasy-spoon breakfast diner, cheerily lining the shelves in corner grocery stores, awaiting the call in every kitchen cupboard. When I was in grade school, each spring our class would make an annual trek up north for “sugaring off” parties, where freshly tapped, warmed maple syrup was poured over vast expanses of pristine snow to create a kind of maple taffy that we kids scrambled to scoop up with plastic spoons. I might even classify myself as a bit of a maple syrup snob, in fact, one who’d never even consider trying the artificially flavored stuff from that iconic slender-waisted bottle.
Still, despite my fine maple sensibilities, I’ve never really thought it essential to buy organic maple syrup. For one thing, the price is usually, shall we say, immoderate. In addition, I’ve always recalled a conversation I had with a student once in a sociology of food course I was teaching. She mentioned that her family owned a local maple tree farm. There was really no difference between organic and non-organic syrup, she explained, since most maple trees aren’t sprayed with pesticides anyway (unless infected by some vermin or another). I filed away that bit of information and continued to purchase my regular (non-organic) variety.
Well, let me tell you, that student got it wrong (luckily, she wasn’t writing a test at the time). Now that I’ve tasted the Coomb’s organic version, I’m not sure I can go back to my generic brand. Their syrup is outstanding, with a rich, deep amber color and more intense maple flavor than I’ve ever tasted. It’s perfectly sweet and subtly smoky, with a heightened maple essence that lingers gently on the palate, enduring like an unexpected compliment.
Seriously, I may not be able to tolerate my old brand any more. To heck with the price–I’ll just have to be more judicious in my use of it, I reckon. Or else use a bit less and savor every drop more. Or simply ignore the cost entirely (I suspect that a pawn shop may come into play at some point). Seriously, it’s that good.
My first taste of the syrup was straight, poured onto the Lemony Almond Pancakes I wrote about a few days ago (I wanted to sample the delicacy in its pure, unadulterated state before combining it with other ingredients). The flavors melded beautifully, the maple’s presence strong enough to match the zesty lemon while counterbalancing the slight sourness of it. The HH practically asked to drink the stuff straight out of the bottle (but I wouldn’t let him, of course, as I was saving it for my subsequent kitchen experiments). He did manage to polish off the maple candy in one sitting, however–I got barely a nibble!
With such a winning flavor, I opted to design a cookie that would really showcase the unique taste that is “maple.” I concocted these Maple Flax cookies (sorry, the two of you who are also on the ACD; these are NOT ACD-friendly–I created this recipe a couple of weeks ago). They are naturally gluten free (and even flour-free, in fact). In this case, the light, chewy texture was a natural outgrowth of my desire to minimize other ingredients in order to allow the natural maple to shine through. And you will most definitely taste it, with every chewy, sticky, sweet and maple-y bite.
Thanks again to everyone at Coombs Family Farms for allowing me to sample this extraordinary product. Now my only lament is that I can’t find any more of it here in Toronto!
They’re not quite Irish, but since they contain oats, I can claim a Celtic connection, anyway. . . Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!
P.S. It’s time for another Sweet Freedom giveaway. . . stay tuned for details next post!
Maple Flax Cookies
Looking somewhat like oatmeal cookies, with a crunchy exterior and chewy center, these intesely maple-flavored treats will please everyone. Whole flax seeds add bulk, while the oatmeal and flax meal both contribute heart-healthy soluble fiber.
1/2 cup (60 g) whole old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick cook)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut oil, solid at room temperature*
3 Tbsp (45 ml) pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Sucanat or other unrefined evaporated cane juice
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely ground flax seeds
3 Tbsp (45 ml) whole flax seeds
1/4 tsp (1 ml) baking soda
1/4 tsp (1 ml) baking powder
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a mini food processor or coffee grinder, whir the oats until they resemble a coarse meal. Pour the meal into a small bowl and set aside.
To the unwashed processor bowl, add the coconut oil, maple syrup, Sucanat and ground flax seeds. Blend until combined well and smooth. Set aside while you measure the rest of the dry ingredients, or at least 2 minutes.
To the bowl of oats, add the whole flax seeds, baking soda, baking powder and salt, and mix to distribute everything. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir to create a sticky “dough”.
Using a melon baller or teaspoon, drop the mixture onto cookie sheet about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Do not flatten the cookies (they will spread on their own).
Bake 10-13 minutes, until puffed and cracked on top and dry on the edges. Allow to cool completely before removing from sheet (they will firm up as they cool). Makes 8-10 cookies. May be frozen.
* If your room temperature is warm enough that the coconut oil melts, place it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so to firm up before using in this recipe.
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I’m sharing this recipe at Amy’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays.
Last Year at This Time: Katie’s Creamy Aspara-Dip
© 2009 Ricki Heller