Good day friends! Thank you for landing on “Beyond the Barrel,” a feast of tasteful topics inspired by the delightful ingredients we work with every day at BLiS. Our goal is to bring you well-researched content that explores ingredient history and trends while sharing unique recipes from our broader community as well as in-house designed creations. I hope you’ll enjoy our monthly articles and welcome your thoughts, feedback and questions. Until then, eat and drink the good stuff Because Life is Short!
Maple Syrup: Don’t call it a comeback
A wise man once said, “Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.” While LL Cool J may not have been referring to maple syrup, it’s fitting because, well, maple syrup has been here for years. This sweet, natural goodness has graced the tables of North America for as long as most of us can remember. While its origins and process are less familiar to many (Michiganders might be far more in the know than others), we see its application stretched in every direction, from cocktail recipes, gourmet popsicles and unique savory dishes to traditional applications at the breakfast table.
Shout out to the indigenous tribes of North America:
While historians haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact tribe or place, it is known that Native American tribes were enjoying the sap of the sugar maple in North America long before European settlers came along. Different tribes have varying versions of how maple sap was first discovered. Some, including the Chippewas and Ottawas of Michigan, claim that Native American gods diluted the maple sap so the tribes had to work harder to make it into syrup. The theory being that sweetness given freely would make the tribes too easily contented and contribute to their demise.
Other stories site a woman named Moqua who accidentally let her moose stew cook dry, so she added maple water which eventually cooked down to a delicious syrup coating the meat. Her mate, the storied hunter Woksis, supposedly broke the stew bowl to taste every last drop of syrup. While indigenous people of North America were more prone to oral history, this account was published in an 1896 April issue of the The Atlantic Monthly by a Vermont resident, Rowland E. Robinson.
Whichever legend you subscribe to, the truth remains that harvesting sap in the early days to make syrup was a labor of love. Without modern invention, sap was typically collected in buckets made from bark or wood hollowed out with an axe. Collected from each tree individually, the sap was cooked down slowly over a a fire. 40 gallons of sap yielded a single gallon (still the average most research uses today). It’s also been documented that many indigenous people preferred sweet to salt in their cooking so pairing maple syrup with the kill of the day or any number of side dishes was common practice.
Leveraging what they’d learned from the indigenous people of North America, European settlers began making their own maple syrup, drilling holes in the trees and collecting the sap in buckets. It’s been documented that during the 17th century, many dairy farmers would spend their time in the off-season making maple syrup for added income. As the practice proliferated, the maple syrup industry was born.
Today’s Maple Syrup
Now, through modern invention, tubing systems are used to collect the sap more efficiently and high-tech dehydration systems take the raw product from 98% water down to its sticky sweetness in a fraction of the time used in traditional methods. Even so, if you get the opportunity to visit some of the Michigan syrup producers during harvest (between Feb-April, depending on where you are in MI), you’ll quickly realize that this is STILL a labor of love. Nonetheless, modern methods led to increased production and quickly ramped up the North American taste for maple syrup.
(r) See the trends in North America over a 14 year period:
The trend for more maple is also rooted in marketing campaigns that have, for the last 75 plus years, highlighted maple syrup’s long-standing marriage to the American breakfast table. Whether it was the log cabin shaped tin of the early 1900’s or the plastic squeeze bottle, maple syrup ads dating back to the 30’s were seldom seen without the ever-familiar stack of pancakes or waffles. Also of note are the creations that pay homage to the Native American application of sweet with savory – think maple glazed ham, bacon, turkey etc.
Maple syrup itself has also been transformed in a number of ways. While it’s sometimes argued that pure, unadulterated syrup should be left alone, producers continue to find innovative ways to infuse, age, and even smoke maple syrup. Steve Stallard of BLiS remains one of the trusted pioneers of bourbon-barrel aging. 20 years ago, Steve’s experimentation taking pure maple Michigan nectar and maturing it in older bourbon barrels gave birth to BLiS’s flagship product, the Bourbon Barrel Maple Syrup. Just last year, Steve was given an innovation award by Bissell Maple Farms at the Craft Maple Syrup Festival in Jefferson, Ohio for his deep expertise in bourbon barrel aging.
With a few different versions of Bourbon Barrel Maple Syrup in the mix at BLiS, another favorite is quickly becoming BLiS Hardwood Smoked Bourbon Maple Syrup. On a personal note, this is the product that I want to drink from the bottle. Its versatility knows no bounds. I’ve used this in salad dressings, basted grilled chicken with it and yes, even poured the smoky sweet goodness over a pile of fresh hot pancakes. Finding new ways to enhance my home menu with smoked maple syrup is bordering on obsession.
What are we drinking and eating?
The great news is that maple syrup is a year-round ingredient. Its application can take your palette on a journey through every season. With the Michigan spring about to leap into summer, here are a few season-appropriate examples of inspired maple syrup creations by friends of BLiS and culinarians the world round:
I had to pay homage to the incredible duo making THE best popsicles I’ve ever tasted. Jason and Korin take popsicles to a different universe with Any Colour You Like. You can taste the love and passion in every bite. As one of the head producers, tasters, and masterminds at BLiS, it’s no wonder that maple syrup made its way into their tasty delights as the Michigan Maple Horchata pop. Do yourself a favor and check these guys out. What a great way to celebrate the warm weather coming our way!
All in all, you’ll be hard pressed to find a brewery that doesn’t have a barrel program anymore. What better way to tease out complex and enticing flavor than storing brews in old bourbon/maple barrels?
Whether you’re sipping on the Imperial Biscotti Bourbon Maple Syrup Barrel-Aged brew or diving into a Maple Jesus, Jeppe of Evil Twin pays homage to bourbon barrel aging with expert technique and playful genius. A long-time friend of BLiS, Jeppe crafts beers in breweries all over the world seeking out complex, unique flavor profiles.
PUT IT ON THE GRILL!
With my grill dusted off and ready for action, I pretty much want to grill everything until the fall when I move into braised meat mode. As different things come into season after the winter/spring thaw, what better way to pair food than with a grilled piece of meat! Personally, I love grilled chicken. Some find chicken boring, but with this marinade, you’ll be glad you tried it.
COCKTAILS with smoked maple syrup? What???
This recipe hails from Town & Country magazine’s “35 Spring Cocktails to Enjoy in the New Season” and highlights a cocktail courtesy of Vie in Western Springs, Illinois. I’m not going to lie. These ingredients are probably NOT in everyone’s kitchen, but when I found a cocktail with SMOKED maple syrup in it, I had to share it. And I also had to make it. And then I also had to drink it…I don’t know what KTG stands for, but I’m pretty sure it translates to “This tastes good for lunch on Monday.”
This boozy creation does not disappoint. While several of the ingredients have a fairly robust flavor profile in their own right, it’s amazing how well-balanced this is! Give it a go and tell your cross-town friends to Uber over.
My picture isn’t as pretty as theirs, but it was still AMAZING!
GET THE RECIPE HERE
Maple is here to stay!
In doing research for this piece, I think one thing is clear. Maple syrup will continue to be part of our evolving food history. Its limitless application to food and drink continues to tap the creativity of enthusiasts the world over. Thanks again for checking us out and stay tuned for new recipes and next month’s article which may or may not pay tribute to a NEW BLiS creation…. Until then, be kind and eat great food!