Pennsylvania’s best maple producers – cooking happiness this month – share their recipes
The first bite. Back up. It’s the first whiff, the first smell you get coming from the kitchen. It’s like those terrible Folgers commercials. The best part of waking up…you know. The smell of the coffee wafts through and slaps you around a few times and puts a big, caffeine-craving grin on that face. Same thing here, but better, if you can believe that.
Yes, there’s going to be coffee, but there’s going to be eggs; there’s going to be toast; there’s going to be pancakes stacked as high as a Jack Russell, and man, oh, man, when the sausage hits the skillet you’ll be bumping your face on the stovetop the way a moth can’t help but chest-bump a light bulb.
And that’s not all. There are miles and miles of blue tubing and vacuum conveyance systems milking hundreds of maple trees for their nectar. Sure, it’s only two percent sugar when it comes out of the tree, but when applied with wood- fired heat that water flies off and left in its saccharine wake is nothing short of heavenly.
Maple syrup is in that evaporator, its uses near- infinite, and this low viscosity fluid can be used for just about anything so long as your pancreas is locked, stocked, and loaded with insulin to enjoy maple’s bounty.
Maple candy, maple bacon, maple sausage, maple mustard, maple walnut ice cream topping, maple peanuts, maple walnuts, maple caramel popcorn. Drizzle Dump the maple in coffee, tea, or milk, boil it down and stir to make crumbly sugar, and don’t forget to top drown those pancakes steaming on that plate and kick them back like you only live once. Because you do. And it’s sugarin’ time.
Laura Nelson, of Charles B. Nelson and Sons, was put on the spot about what makes for a great pancake breakfast. “Oh, gosh,” she said, “maple syrup, bacon, and eggs. Let me think.”
“A pancake recipe from scratch rather than buying something [pre- made],” she said. Nelson draws upon a recipe she found in an old Amish cookbook. She makes the dry mix ahead of time so she can, at a moment’s notice, griddle up some hot cakes.
Amish Hot Cakes
12 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. salt
3⁄4 cup baking powder 3⁄4 cup maple sugar
4 cups dry/powdered milk
Mix and store in an airtight container.
To make pancakes:
1-1⁄2 cups of the mix from above 1 beaten egg
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. melted shortening
Mix well, fry on a hot griddle.
“I mix it up ahead of time and store it so it can be cut down to two cups of mix,” Laura said. “I’ve made it with twelve cups to make a bigger breakfast over the years. I use the maple sugar in place of brown sugar.”
The maple sugar comes from boiling the syrup at about 255 degrees. The water boils out and, after some stirring, it crumbs right up. “You start stirring and it crumbles out,” Laura said. “When we have our open house we do sugar. We do a gallon at a time. People stand there with their mouths open. They can’t believe the transformation it does. It’s granulated sugar. Just cook it down.”
After breakfast, for brunch, maybe for dessert later in the day, Laura also bakes up her maple bark.
Maple Bark Confection
3⁄4 cup butter
1-1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour 3⁄4 cup maple sugar
Mix and pat them in a 9” x 13” pan, bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
Layer on 1 cup Grape Nuts.
Layer on 1 cup chopped nuts.
Layer on 2 cups flaked coconut.
Mix: 1 cup maple syrup with two lightly beaten eggs and 1 cup sweetened, condensed milk and pour over. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.
“That’s won me a few blue ribbons at the Pennsylvania Farm Show,” Laura said. “You can use it and enter if you’d like.”
Charles, Laura’s husband, laughs. He loves to see the breakfast table piled with pancakes and syrup, some sausage, an egg, and applesauce. He credits his wife with being the scientist in the kitchen creating much of what makes it onto the table. But, like his father before him, he said, “What I do, and everybody smiles, is add maple syrup to cottage cheese. The idea came from back when they made their own cottage cheese on the farm. It was sour. Dad didn’t like sour stuff. It’s great on it.”
That syrup has won many awards, most recently at the 2013 Farm Show in Harrisburg where it won Best of Show.
Jennifer and Jody Butler, of Butler Family Maple, agree that in order for the food to live up to its potential, the first element of the great pancake breakfast must be, “Family and friends that you can sit down and you have some discussions, laughs, sometimes tears, and any great meal for that matter,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer grew up on small, family farms knowing where their food came from, knowing how the animals were treated. Food wasn’t some disembodied slab at Wal-Mart’s meat counter or something out of a box.
As for the food, “Wholesome ingredients, maple syrup, fresh eggs, fresh milk,” Jennifer said. “We get caught up in low-fat or light foods. I’m not saying those things are unimportant. I want to go back to knowing what we eat and trust the people around us. There’s no better way to live. I grew up on a dairy farm and we had fresh eggs, fresh milk, even maple syrup.”
Butler’s Baked French Toast Casserole with Praline Topping
1 loaf French bread 8 eggs
2 cups half and half 1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. maple syrup 1 tsp. vanilla
1⁄4 tsp. cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. salt
Slice the bread 1 inch thick and arrange in a greased baking dish. Combine all other ingredients. Beat until well mixed, but not too bubbly. Pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
1-1⁄2 sticks of butter
1⁄2 cup maple syrup
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Combine topping ingredients and pour over the chilled casserole before baking. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.
“This gives you enough time to have a great conversation with a hot cup of coffee or a board game with your children before breakfast,” Jennifer said.
The maple syrup the Butlers harvest gets used on practically everything. “Maple mustards we use on hams,” Jennifer said. “Our chili has a little maple syrup in it. The cornbread is a maple cornbread. You can sweeten coffee with a touch of maple syrup. We use it every day.”
Jennifer’s two young daughters visit their grandmother a lot and there must always be maple syrup on hand. It’s its own form of entertainment for the girls. They come home and run up to mom and say, “Mom, we need more maple syrup at Grandmom’s!”
During the sugaring season, when about 9,000 taps draw hundreds and hundreds of gallons of sap to the sugarhouse, Hamilton Maple Farm fires up its new pancake house. They open it from the first of March through April 13 on weekends from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The pancake house serves to showcase their maple products. One such canvas is their pumpkin spice waffles with maple mousse. “Other people call it maple whip,” Phyillis Hamilton said.
8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces Cool Whip
4 ounces crumbled maple sugar Mix and let it sit overnight.
“Who doesn’t like a pancake with a fresh maple syrup?” Phyllis asked. “Just bringing people around as company is the best part of a home meal and the good flavors of maple syrup.”
She makes a cheesecake as well. Of course it’s a maple cheesecake.
Tawney Maple Cheesecake
1-1⁄4 cup graham cracker crumbs
5 Tbsp. sugar
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
3⁄4 cup dark maple syrup
3 eggs at room temperature
1⁄4 cup heavy cream
1-1⁄2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1-1⁄2 cups sour cream at room temperature
1-1⁄2 tsp. vanilla
Combine graham cracker and 1 Tbsp. sugar in mixing bowls with soft butter and press into a 9” spring form pan, freeze.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, boil syrup over medium heat for 3 minutes, remove, stir in cold cream, scrape into a bowl and refrigerate. Using a heavy mixer, cream the cream cheese until light and fluffy, add remaining 4 Tbsp. of sugar, beat briefly, add eggs one at a time. When maple syrup is not warm to touch anymore, gradually beat in to mixture followed by sour cream and vanilla. Scrape into the chilled pan. Bake it till set, about 90 minutes. Take it out, chill for six hours.
Phyllis is a maple savant making mustards, ice cream toppings, peanuts, walnuts, popcorn, and fudge, all sharing the stage with maple syrup. “I make an awesome maple fudge,” she said. “I wonder if I’m doing it right, but it tastes good so I must be!”
Over at Brydonson Farm, Bryan Ianson’s idea of the perfect pancake breakfast involves, “Bacon, eggs, and syrup.” Correction: “Maple bacon, eggs, and syrup.”
The bacon can be brined with maple or it can be fried with some syrup, being mindful not to burn the syrup. Ianson will take sausage patties, fry ’em on one side, flip ’em, pour the maple on, and let it melt in.
“We use a lot of maple syrup,” he said. “People don’t realize how much you can use it. Put it in coffee, tea, milk to make maple milk for kids.”
As for recipes, “We hang on to our recipes. We make things from scratch. We want to maintain our traditions,” he said.
“That’s tough, I don’t know how to answer that!” said Bud Bowers, contemplating the key elements to the great pancake breakfast. Above all else, he believes in sustainability, the protection of his land and his trees. His operation, Brookfield Maple, undergoes a rigorous inspection process to ensure everything that touches his land and graces his maple is up to the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s (NOFA) code. He’ll never over-tap a tree.
As for the great pancake breakfast, it’s not a slam dunk for people to answer. Yes, there are staples, “You’ve got to have real maple syrup for that. I don’t know!” he said.
What about sitting down to eat? Enjoying the company of others?
“That’s what we do, people in the country do,” he said. “People in the city, it’s a big deal for them, a huge deal for them. For us, it’s an everyday occurrence, that’s what we do. That’s a lifestyle.”
Yes, at last, he remembered. Key for him and his family, “You’ve got to have in there the best two kinds of pancakes. It’s either buckwheat pancakes or sweet potato pancakes. One or the other. The earthy taste, it tastesreal, like nothing out of a microwave.”
Sweet Potato Pancakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. sugar
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of cloves
2/3 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes 2 Tbsp. melted butter
1-1⁄4 cups milk
“The first time I had sweet potato pancakes was at Cracker Barrel,” said Tina Bowers. “I came home and found a recipe online. That was that.”
And she’s been using it ever since, alongside bacon, fried potatoes, and eggs, of course.
That about sums it up. That’s how the maple crew, the in crowd, uses maple. The breakfast table is the centerpiece, but the maple’s orbit extends far beyond that cloistered universe.
The producers of maple rarely go a day without it. In a world full of artifice, there’s hardly anything more pure than maple syrup taken from the trees that spend all spring and summer making that nectar.
These folks know the myriad ways it can be used: to bathe waffles and pancakes—buttermilk, sweet potato, buckwheat, what have you; in milk, coffee, tea; over plain yogurt and even cottage cheese.
Mrs. Butterworth has got nothin’ on them.