Pure maple syrup is my favorite sweet, right up there with blackberry honey and dark chocolate. I invented a family ritual of Sunday morning waffles, just for an excuse to get my syrup fix. It also gave me a chance to acquaint my sons with cookery, Dad style. That meant shaping the flour in the bowl in the shape of a chute that spiraled down to a hole at the bottom. Then, each raw egg was dropped strategically so that it slid down the chute to the hole. It was the briefest spectacle ever.
It was discomfiting, however, that the boys seemed to prefer maple flavored syrup to the real thing. It seems real maple syrup is an adult acquired taste, perhaps like wine. I can’t recall when I first encountered real maple syrup. I spent my early childhood in Connecticut, and my Aunt Dot farmed in Vermont. But as a child, all we ever used on pancakes was maple-flavored sugar syrup, mainly Log Cabin brand in the little red metal cabin-shaped tins. Real maple syrup wasn’t available in our stores, and we couldn’t afford the luxury anyway. Once in a while, my Mother would take a break from pancakes and make waffles. That was such a treat; it’s the same recipe I use today.
I was working in Westchester County for a couple of months about 25 years ago, and the family flew in for a brief vacation, right at maple sugaring time. We took a drive up through New England and ended up at my Aunt’s place. Her neighbor was brewing up a batch, so we went over to watch. It’s an amazing process that can create ambrosia from tree drippings.
Getting syrup with a good flavor used to be a mild challenge. Trader Joe used to stock Grade A light that I would buy by the half-case. Then I would buy a jug of Costco Grade A dark and use it to spike the light, which I believed needed a little more maple character. My blend seemed to be the best taste available.
Just as I evaluate an Italian restaurant by the quality of its lasagna, I evaluate any new food store by the quality of its maple syrup. When a new Fresh & Easy store opened near us, I was delighted to see Grade A medium. It’s about as good as my old blend used to be; it’s a very good value and simpler is better. I am hoping it will retain consistent quality over time. We don’t use much syrup these days, since Debby can’t eat waffles very often and the kids no longer lurk near my kitchen.
2012 update: We’re in the Puget Sound area now, there’s no Fresh and Easy within a thousand miles, and we’ve exhausted the year’s supply of their syrup that I moved with us. But Costco has come to the rescue with Grade A medium syrup on the cheap. We are blessed for as long as they choose to stock it.
2014 update: Now it’s Trader Joe that sells a medium amber Grade A syrup. It keeps moving around. We keep finding it. Bad Costco.
2015 update: <flame on> It is getting increasingly difficult to get the lighter gradations of Grade A syrup. Online, and at local stores, commercial syrup is now just Grade A amber, meaning dark or darker depending on the luck of the draw. This is yet more proof of the power of marketers and producers to obliterate quality designations, thereby forcing all to the lowest common denominator. Bad producers, bad marketers. Bad, bad, bad. <flame off>
We have shifted from waffles to a more ‘healthful’ alternative, cottage cheese and blueberry pancakes. I make up a batch weekly, consume three pancakes with bacon on cookery day, refrigerate the rest, then each remaining day of the week, microwave a leftover pancake for my pre-breakfast snack. Maple syrup still makes this treat very special.