March is usually maple syrup season anywhere in the northern US. Ever since I lived in Boston and visited a western Massachusetts sugar shack on March weekends, I’ve been fascinated by the process of maple sugaring. After a long drive up a bumpy graveled road, we would emerge in a small clearing surrounded by tall maples; there stood a small sugar shack with steam pouring from the chimney. We would sit down on plastic lawn furniture to feast on the best breakfast of the year: Homemade pancakes and waffles and maple sausage, all smothered in fresh maple syrup. It wasn’t fancy; since the sugar shack (and it was a shack!) was only open the four weekends in March; but the aroma of maple syrup bubbling away above a wood fire pit is not easily forgotten.
Last year, our Michigan friends tried making their own syrup by tapping the maples on their land. Their shared final product was amazing – and like liquid gold – since it took a week to collect enough sap to fill a couple large stock pots. (It generally takes 40-50 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup!) And then it took hours to boil the sap into syrup. They didn’t end up with even close to a gallon of delicious syrup. Undeterred, I was excited when they offered me and my kids the opportunity to tap some of their trees this year and make our own syrup.
But…unfortunately, thanks to unseasonable warm weather this year, the sap has been running amuck since February. Perfect maple sugaring weather is when the temperature rises above freezing during the day (so the sap runs from the maples’ roots up the trunk) and then freezes at night (sending the sap back down the trunk.) This gives ample opportunity for the sap to flow out of the tree through a tap into a waiting bucket (in the olden days) or into plastic tubing these days. (Don’t worry, there is still plenty of sap remaining after sugaring season to keep the trees healthy!)
Maybe next year I’ll be able to write about my maple sugaring experiences. But in the meantime, I’ve been craving maple syrup this entire month. Thus, I knew I had to develop a recipe over which I could drizzle maple syrup for the fabulous potatoes and cheese Improv Challenge dreamed up by Kristen at Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker. Sharp Cheddar is a great match with maple – so I thought potato waffles with cheese could be delicious. I saw this Ham and Cheese Waffles recipe and found this Potato Waffles recipe. I actually removed a stick of butter from the recipe and the waffles still tasted buttery-crispy on the outside and super-moist inside, thanks to the potatoes. The cheese oozed out of the sides of the waffles to become crispy fried, and everything tasted amazing smothered in real maple syrup.
Have you ever seen maple sugaring? What do you like to eat smothered in pure maple syrup?