Thursday, December 16, 2010

Maple Syrup Research Industry Fires Back At John McCain

The following report by Sam Stein comes to the Maple Syrup Maven via Huffington Post on 16 December 2010:

On its face, it does seem absurd. Buried in a trillion-plus-dollar omnibus spending bill is a line requesting $165,000 for maple-syrup research in Vermont. Americans love the savory sap, and the Green Mountain state is the epicenter for its production, churning out 890,000 gallons this year alone. But why does the federal government have to get involved? And for what purpose are taxpayers forking over the dough?

These questions, undoubtedly, were on the mind of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) when he launched his Twitter screed against the pork-barrel projects included in the omnibus. The syrup-research expenditure made ranked fifth on McCain's list of the ten most egregious wastes of money in the omnibus bill -- a surefire example of the pure backwardness of the appropriators in Congress.

Dig a bit deeper, however, and that $165,000 starts to sound a lot less like a testament to fiscal lunacy.

"This is a lifeline," Tim Perkins, the director of the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont, told The Huffington Post, "not only for Vermont, but for all of the maple industry."

That industry is at a crossroads. While international demand for maple syrup is rising, a poor harvest in 2008 crippled the U.S. supply, and much of that void has been filled by Canadian manufacturers. If domestic producers are to survive -- and maintain U.S. consumers' access to reasonably-priced syrup -- they need a technological breakthrough.

It comes down to production efficiency, Perkins said. Maple-syrup makers are being burdened with major fuel costs for producing their product the traditional way. As a result, they are increasingly tinkering with reverse osmosis -- the reduction of the water content of maple sap. Traditionally, sap is concentrated at about 8 to 10 percent, said Perkins. But with reverse osmosis, producers are now trying to concentrate it at 20 percent or more.

"We don't know how the new standards will effect the quality of the syrup," said Perkins, "and quality and taste are critically important. If people can concentrate from 10 percent to 20 percent, it is going to cut in half the amount of fuel they need to use. That means the cost for making maple syrup will be far lower and the cost for consumers will be far lower."

Enter the earmark. For the price of $165,000 -- which is not an addition to the budget, but an allocation within the congressional budget framework -- the Proctor Maple Research Center will pay the salaries of doctoral-level scientists and a technician or two who will spend a year studying and trying to perfect reverse osmosis. It will also allow the center to purchase the sap concentrate to do the research and to keep the lights on while they observe it.

Why is that the federal government's business? Why not allow the private sector to figure it out on its own?

"We are the only people who can do this research," said Perkins. "The maple industry has been asking questions about processing for years. Little parts of it were answered, but big-picture questions haven't been answered. The University of Vermont built a building to process maple syrup. ... We built a new research facility just for this purpose. And we did it without federal funding. It was UVM and the maple industry who paid for it."

Perkins, of course, has a lot to lose if McCain gets his program dropped from the bill. If this $165,000 represents a lifeline, it's his life -- or at least his career -- that's at stake.

And while McCain may have singled out the earmark slated to head Perkins' way, he wasn't necessarily singling out maple-syrup research as a waste of money. Rather, the Arizona Republican has argued that it's the process that bothers him. Projects worth funding should be funded, but not on the sly, as an addendum to a larger or ostensibly-unrelated bill.

But herein lie two particular problems, with this case and with congressional budgeting in general. Maple syrup is the shunned stepchild of the United States Department of Agriculture. The department does have funding for specialty crops, which includes the maple industry. But to get it, an organization or company has to match the funds the government is offering.

"If you ask the USDA, they would probably say they don't exclude maple syrup," said Perkins. "However, if there is a choice between giving money to soybean and wheat they are going to fund those projects because they are much larger commodity groups. Maple is a regional thing. We just can't compete in the competitive arena for the funding."

In short: without the generosity of lawmakers -- in this case, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) -- the well would be close to dry.

"Maple trees and products are a sizable U.S. export resource, with great unmet potential," Leahy spokesman David Carle said. "This industry generates nearly $200 million for Vermont's economy alone. Maple sugar is the second-most economically-important agricultural product in Vermont, after dairy. These small, family-based businesses are deeply ingrained in the character and history of Vermont. The trees are also economically important to the entire Northeast region."

That's the broader problem with McCain's critique, the defenders of earmarks argue: lawmakers know their districts best. While they will naturally be predisposed toward bringing home the bacon -- syrupy or otherwise -- and while earmarking certainly invites lobbyists to put their imprint on the budget process, it often has some value. If lawmakers handed over the pursestrings to the executive branch and its agencies, entire subindustries could go unfunded.

"The question is do all of the decisions for that agency get made by the president ... or do members of Congress intervene?" Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Thursday morning on the Sirius XM Satellite Radio show "POTUS." "I listen to the people I represent on [these] questions."

First Posted: 12-16-10 06:29 PM | Updated: 12-16-10 06:29 PM

Friday, November 26, 2010

Changing Out Sugar for Maple Syrup?

Your Maple Syrup Maven can't figure out who's behind the site, but there's lots of cooking information here.

Let's start with a question many of us have thought about: Are sugar, brown sugar, honey and maple syrup interchangeable in recipes?

Ochef says (not surprisingly), "no".

"First of all, consider the difference in weight. A cup of granulated sugar weighs 8 ounces. A cup of brown sugar weighs only 6 [ounces]. But a cup of maple syrup weighs 11 ounces and a cup of honey weighs 12 [ounces]."

"In addition, honey and maple syrup add moisture to a recipe, which can upset the texture of what you’re making."

Here are some of their substitution suggestions (see the whole answer for more info):

"# To use maple syrup in place of sugar in cooking, use 3/4 cup for every 1 cup of sugar.
# To use maple syrup in place of a cup of sugar in baking, use 3/4 cup, but decrease the total amount of liquid in the recipe by about 3 tablespoons for each cup of syrup you use.
# To use sugar in place of a cup of maple syrup, use 1-1/4 cups of sugar plus 1/4 cup more liquid."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Maple Pecan Sticky Buns

This is the time of year those of us who have home-made maple syrup are looking for new things to try. It's getting close enough to the sugaring season that we're willing to use a jar on a new recipe.

Here's one for Maple Pecan Sticky Buns from Maple Syrup World:

Yields 12 sticky buns

For the sticky part:
10 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp maple syrup

For the buns:
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Cream the "sticky part" ingredients together; divide evenly into 12 muffin tin cups.

On a lightly floured surface, unfold the puff pastry, with folds going left to right. In a small bowl, combine butter and maple syrup. With a pastry brush, brush mixture onto puff pastry, leave a small 1/2 inch border all the way around. Evenly sprinkle on brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans. From the bottom up, gently roll up the puff pastry. Slice into 12 small rolls.

Place one roll into each muffin cup, on top of the butter mixture. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then invent sticky buns onto the parchment paper.

Allow to cool for an additional 10 minutes.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Global Warming and Maple Syrup

There's an interesting analysis of the effects of global warming on maple syrup production over at World Climate News blog. Sweet News for Maple Syrup concludes that the future does not spell the end of syrup production in the usual places (such as Québec and New England).

In fact, "it is reasonable to assume that by adapting to climate change by moving the conventional tapping period, the number of sapflow days can be maintained at present day levels."


(Photo by Susan McKee)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Who Knew Maple Syrup Was Good For You, Too?

In a new research study conducted by the University of Rhode Island, Dr. Navindra Seeram discovered more than 20 compounds linked to human health in Canadian maple syrup, 13 of which were discovered for the first time in maple syrup. Seeram, assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences in URI’s College of Pharmacy, unveiled his findings 21 March 2010 at the American Chemical Society’s Annual Meeting.

“In a certain sense, people view sap as the life blood of the tree,” Seeram said. “Maple syrup is unique in that it is the only product in our diet that comes from a plant’s sap.” Historically, many cultures have benefited from its health benefits as a homeopathic remedy for ailments, including flu, stomach aches, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Maple syrup’s high levels of zinc and manganese can assist in heart health and boosting the immune system. You can read more here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival

Michigan's maple syrup industry ranks fifth in the nation! One of the places in the state to celebrate the sweet stuff is the 70th annual Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival, set for 23-25 April. The syrup producers are located throughout the village selling syrup, candies, crème and the ever-popular maple syrup cotton candy. Besides, there are pancakes with real maple syrup offered by the Maple Valley Band Boosters and the American Legion. Celebrate the first agricultural crop of the season! (Look for Vermontville to the west of Lansing.)

Here are some simple things to do with maple syrup, courtesy of Vermontville:

Hard Maple Sugar

Darker grades of syrup are suitable for making maple sugar. Heat a quantity of maple syrup until the temperature is approximately 40° F above the boiling point of water (to 252° F). Remove from heat and being stirring immediately. When the syrup begins to thicken and sugar crystals form, pour the partially crystallized syrup into molds to harden.

Soft Maple Sugar Candy
Heat pure maple syrup to a temperature of 27ºF above the boiling point of water (to 239ºF). Allow to cool slowly, preferably by settling the pan on a wooden surface for even distribution of heat. When the temperature of the syrup solution reaches 155ºF, stir with a wooden spoon. When crystallization begins (syrup will be soft and plastic) pour into molds to allow to harden.

Granulated (stirred) Sugar
Heat the syrup to a temperature between 40ºF and 45ºF above the boiling point of water (to 252ºF to 257ºF). Immediately pour the hot syrup into a large tray or wooden trough for stirring. Continue stirring until all moisture has completely evaporated and granulation is completed.

Maple Cream
Use light colored grades of syrup for best results. Heat the syrup 22ºF to 24ºF above boiling point of water (234ºF to 236ºF). Remove from heat and cool rapidly to 70ºF or below (50ºF is preferable). Stir the stiffened, cooled syrup with a wooden spoon until creaming is completed. While still in a pourable condition, transfer to storage jars or containers. Store under refrigeration.


A favorite product for parties, this taffy-like product is simple to produce. Heat the desired amount of syrup to a temperature of 18ºF to 23ºF above the boiling point of water (to 230ºF to 235ºF).Without stirring, pour immediately over clean, fresh snow or shaved ice. Since the cooling is rapid, the supersaturated solution does not have time to crystallize, and thus forms a glassy taffy-like sheet. Serve with fresh unsweetened doughnuts and dill or sour pickles.

Other Maple Products
Maple syrup is widely used as an ingredient in a variety of other food products. Because of its high sugar content, it can be substituted for sugar in many recipes. When substituting, use 1½ cups of pure maple syrup for each cup of granulated sugar, and add ¼ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of maple syrup used. When maple syrup is substituted for all sugar in a recipe, reduce the amount of liquid used by one half. If maple syrup is substituted for half the sugar, reduce liquid amounts by one-fourth

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A (Maple) Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Ava Chin writes about making maple syrup in Brooklyn, a New York City borough, in The New York Times. "This time of year," she writes, "the city’s maple trees are ripe for tapping, and, as I discovered in Brooklyn this weekend, the sap is flowing."

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Parke County Syrup Festival

Nothing signals the end of winter better than maple syrup festivals! One of the largest takes place throughout Parke County in west central Indiana. This year's dates are February 27 and 28 plus March 6 and 7. Not only do Road Trips Foodies get to see how the sweet stuff is produced, but there are the scenic drives along country roads punctuated with Parke County's famous covered bridges! Maple sugar camps on the tour this year are Foxworthy, Williams & Teague, Smiley’s Camp, Sweetwater Farms, and Baird’s Sugar Shack.

The festival headquarters is on US 41, one mile north of Rockville, Indiana, at the county 4-H Fairgrounds. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Maps and information will be provided for all the places you’ll want to visit in Parke County, but there's a reason to stick around the fairgrounds for a bit: pancakes are served all day with whole-hog sausage and maple syrup (of course). In addition, the fairgrounds will have maple syrup, maple sugar candy and maple syrup cookies for sale, plus the works of Parke County artisans, handmade crafts, home baked goodies, jams and jellies. The Butcher Shop sells smoked ham, bacon, country pork sausage and cheese. so that you can take home some of that great country flavor. Parke County Collectibles is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with handmade and homegrown products for sale from appliquéd clothing to woodcrafts.