Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Sweet Life

Despite the continued threat of winter weather, there is a bit of magic to the month of March. As if planned, events converge marking the end of winter's grasp. Birds chirp, robins return to pace the yard, snow melts, days grow longer and trucks haul sap to nearby sugar shacks. I feel as if I too am thawing out from the bitter winds, deep snow and long nights. I am relieved.

We are now in the midst of maple sugar season. The hustle and bustle of this season breaks winter's silence. I notice increased traffic on my road. Trucks loaded with large sap containers go back and forth. Buckets hang on what seems to be every available maple tree while steam and smoke rise from the sugar shacks nearby (there are at least five). This is the start of fresh local food. Sap is drained from the maple trees to then be boiled. Before boiling, the sap looks like water. After much evaporation, the sweet treat emerges and is used in everything from coffee to baked goods, beans to casseroles, and of course, the traditional pancake topping. See baked bean recipe below, the winner of the Ottawa Baked Bean Fest, courtesy of Diane Mausser.

I encourage you to visit one of the local sugar shacks. As if from a dream, entering a sugar shack is an entrancing experience. The scent of warm maple syrup surrounds you and sweetness hangs in the air. This coming weekend, March 26 and 27, is the second Maple Syrup Weekend in our county. Many sugar shacks are open to visitors while also offering samples, gifts such as coloring books and pencils for kids, and tours to view the process of making maple syrup. This is something you want your children to see. Not only because maple syrup is one of the quintessential foods of the north country, but it is a great lesson in the making of a local food. The education of how food goes from being in the forest/garden/field to on our plate is critical.

Ready to celebrate the ending of winter and the coming of the fresh local food season? Visit a sugar shack, enjoy the sweet treats and maybe purchase a gallon to support your neighbor. Then top the day off by attending GardenShare's literary and musical celebration this Saturday night, March 26th. From the GardenShare website “Enjoy an evening of scrumptious short stories, tasty tales, and well-seasoned poetry readings, hosted by Master of Ceremonies Todd Moe of North Country Public Radio.” Music will be interspersed with the readings and guests are invited to a dessert reception after the performance. You can buy tickets online, via phone or at the door. Visit these two sites to plan your day, and

Winner of the Ottawa Baked Bean Fest

1pds (900g) dried navy beans

½ cup molasses

1 tbsp + 1 tsp dry mustard

½ cup dark brown sugar

4 whole canned plum tomatoes, crushed

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp + 1 tsp salt

½ tsp freshly ground pepper

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

12 slices of low salt bacon

½ cup maple syrup

1 very large onion peeled and chopped

Soak beans overnight. Drain and rinse

•Preheat oven 300ºF. In saucepan combine molasses, mustard, brown sugar, tomatoes, bay leaves, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce and 5 cups of water.

Bring to a boil and whisk until sugar is dissolved.

•Chop onion.

•Chop in squares ½ pkg of bacon.

•Layer ingredients, onion on the bottom, then beans, then bacon.

•Pour in molasses mixture and gently stir.

•Liquid should cover the beans by ½’. Add water if necessary.

•Add maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

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