In our last newsletter, I wrote all about my quest for to re-create my family’s Christmas tradition of a Danish Kringle. I had much to say about our traditions, family, and all that went into the search, the discovery and the re-creation of such delicious treat. But now, it’s winter. And, for this issue, I have no such story to share. No real winter traditions to wax eloquently about. As a family who likes to spend a lot of time outdoors and eat a lot of fresh, seasonal produce, and visit farms and parks, and camp… it’s not necessarily our ideal season. I do like to nest, and enjoy hearty stews and extra downtime that the winter provides, but I really do prefer Spring.

But, then there’s maple syrup. It’s a curious thing this bottle of liquid gold. At a time of the year, when everything still seems asleep, when the snow is swirling around my house as we speak, when anything that’s seasonal has yet to even start growing… that’s when we get the very best maple syrup. It’s a great lesson for kids, to not make quick assumptions, to look deeply at things, think about what may be going on inside a person, when on the outside, they might be quiet, or disengaged or aloof.

So last week, I asked my daughter if there was anything that we eat that can be harvested in the winter. She’s a pretty savvy 1st grader who eats oysters on the halfshell, knows that the best tomatoes grow in August, and radishes are roots (that taste best with salt)!  She looked outside at the snow piling up and looked back at me with a quizzical look on her face. The look that indicates that she thinks I’m talking nonsense. “Mom!” she said. “It’s snowing! It’s winter! We won’t be able to get anything local until it’s spring.”

When I pulled out the bottle of last year’s maple syrup from the farm down the road, it was time for my teachable moment. “Ahh, but don’t but so quick to make assumptions, I reminded her. Even in wintertime, when everything seems asleep, there is still something happening in the woods!”

Maple TreesWith a few minutes looking at old photos, she remembered the visit we took to a sugar shack up in Canada a few years ago when we learned the steps for harvesting and making maple syrup, and the trip she took to a nature center in preschool when they tapped the trees and gave each kid a taste of the sap.

I took the time to talk with her a bit about pure maple syrup versus processed maple syrup. We looked at the different labels on the bottles and compared the ingredients (what! No maple syrup actually listed in the processed one!?). Then we had a little fun and had a tasting.  I took some of the “fake” pancake “syrup” and put a little in a cup and then put some of the real stuff in another cup. I gave her both to taste but didn’t tell her which was which. We did some observations about what it looked like, smelled like and finally tasted like. She noticed that the first (fake) was “sticky and gluey” and the other one was a bit thinner “but darker like tea”. She also noticed that the real one it smelled kind of “toasty” and “sweet”. When she tasted them she definitely liked the first but said it was “super sweet and kind of tasted weird at the end.” The real one tasted like “sitting by the campfire with Daddy.” (Well, I might have helped her with that one, but she agreed to the memory!) Try your own syrup tasting by using our Ingredient Tasting Chart.  We only tasted the 2 types, but have fun with it and include different brands, or syrup from different farms, locations, etc. You could even compare the syrup with honey, agave, or other sweeteners.

Maple JarsI’m sure that all of this talk about maple syrup has you thinking about pancakes. But honestly, for me, maple syrup is more of ingredient I use in savory cooking than as a sticky sweet topping for an already sweet breakfast.  My favorite way to use maple syrup is in marinades for fish, chicken and pork. A recipe that’s currently in heavy rotation these days is one for Roasted Salmon with Smoked Paprika and Maple Syrup. It’s a hit with everyone in my family, and we love how the ingredients give the dish a sweet, smoky and spicy flavor. My favorite combination!

At last, I suppose we do now have a winter tradition after all. Last night, after the snow had finally stopped, I boiled up a bit of pure maple syrup and Ruby and I crept outside after dinner. We poured the hot syrup onto some freshly packed snow and after it cooled, rolled it up and ate it. Sugar on Snow!  We’ll be making it again and again and again!

Click here to find this month’s Literature Connections activity!