It’s fall in Vermont and that means fresh apples! We love picking apples at the local orchard, as well as experimenting with the wild varieties that grow around our farm. Macintosh and Cortland are two of the most common and readily available apple cultivars. However, the Northeast is actually home to over 7,500 cultivars, many of which were developed over 400 years ago. Our fields and woods are filled with apple trees that bear fruit resembling the Golden Russet, Jonagold and Jonathan cultivars. This apple butter is extra special with a few different types of apples but using all the same apples creates delicious butter as well.
Apple butter is similar to to jam, with a rich apple flavor. Spread it on toast, mix it into yogurt, put a dollop on oatmeal or use as a cheese pairing. Using maple sugar as a sweetener increases the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as well as creating more depth of flavor. Apple flavor is enhanced by using the entire apple, skin and core included, and then straining the pulp through a food mill.
4pounds apples (about 10 to 12 medium), washed, unpeeled, uncored, cut into 1-inch chunks
½cup apple cider vinegar
12-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1star anise pod
1-2 cups granulated maple sugar
Small pinch kosher salt
Combine apples, vinegar, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, ginger, star anise pod and 4 cups water in a large, heavy bottomed pot over high heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are completely softened and the liquid has reduced by half, 30 to 40 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
Leaving behind allspice berries, cinnamon sticks and star anise pod, pass the apples through a food mill.
To finish on the stovetop: Place apple pulp in the same large, heavy-bottomed pot, add granulated maple sugar and stir to dissolve. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick, glossy and a deep golden brown (somewhere between honey and molasses), 2 to 2 1/2 hours. To test the thickness, spoon a bit onto a plate: The mixture should set almost immediately with no spreading or wateriness. If it’s not there yet, cook another 8 to 10 minutes and test again. When the desired consistency is reached, season with kosher salt.
To finish in the oven: Heat oven to 300 degrees. Place apple pulp in a 9-inch by 13-inch (3-quart) baking dish, add granulated maple sugar and stir to dissolve. Place in oven and let cook, stirring every 30 minutes or so, until mixture is thick, glossy and a deep, golden brown color (somewhere between honey and molasses), 3 to 3 1/2 hours. To test the thickness, spoon a bit onto a plate: The mixture should set almost immediately with no spreading or wateriness. If it’s not there yet, cook another 20 to 30 minutes and test again. When the desired consistency is reached, season with kosher salt.
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
Welcome to the sugar farm in Autumn!
Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote about the splendor of October in Anne of Green Gables. We think our sugar dog, Archie, may be experiencing his own Anne Shirley moment! Archie came to Couching Lion Maple Sugar Farm in April, as a stray from Texas . He took a few months to get used to a life where food readily appears, beds are soft and humans dote on you all day long. Now it is fall and he is absolutely loving the crisp air and swirling leaves. Our walks in the sugarbush have taken on a more wild gait. I still walk but now Archie runs in circles.
I don’t know if he appreciates the colorful beauty, but I sure do. The sugar maples are brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow. The weather in Vermont in September and October is also a thing of beauty. We experience lots of high pressure days with clear air and bright blue skies. While I am back in the classroom teaching math and literacy, I still try to get outside as much as possible to enjoy all the changes happening in the woods. Read on for more news from the sugar farm, as well as recipes and seasonal information!
Firewood galore! One gallon of maple syrup is produced by evaporating the water out of 40 gallons of maple sap. Large sugar farms often use fuel oil to create the necessary heat for this evaporation. However, for a richer, more caramelized and more nuanced flavor, wood fired syrup is the only way to go. All of the firewood used to make Couching Lion Maple is harvested right on our property, either as blow downs or through a carefully managed forestry plan. To maintain our Bird Friendly Maple designation, we need to leave a certain amount of standing dead trees and woody debris. Therefore, the trees that are removed are usually shading trails and inhibiting ground cover growth, or they are from another part of the property that needs thinning for the best forest health. Matt has just finished splitting 12 cords of wood for the sugarhouse and 4 cords to heat our house. Now, on to other projects!
Besides being incredibly delicious and naturally organic, the known health benefits of maple syrup and maple sugar continue to expand. There are many beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Polyphenols are one type of antioxidant found in high concentration in maple syrup. New studies examine the ways in which polyphenols in maple syrup can stabilize blood sugar and how it can lower glucose and insulin responses better than refined sugar and corn syrup. Using maple sugar rather than white sugar or corn syrup lowers the chance of developing chronic conditions like diabetes because of the way maple sugar positively affects your metabolism. Other exciting research is around a compound found in maple syrup called quebecol. Numerous studies show this compound in maple syrup extracts has antioxidant and antimutagenic properties including the ability to inhibit human cancer cell growth. This ground breaking information opens the door for this compound to serve as a potential cancer prevention drug. For more information about these studies and many others, check out the remarkable research being done at the University of Rhode Island regarding the health benefits of maple syrup.
Speaking of Rhode Island…I did my first virtual sugarbush tour for a group of young Rhode Islanders! They were actually very young, ages 3-5. A good friend from college is their teacher and she was looking for content to keep them engaged during the distance learning days. Archie and I walked around the sugarbush for quite awhile, working out a theme to capture the attention of these youngsters. The completed 10 minute video explores different kinds of trees, the remains of a 100 year old evaporator in the sugarbush, and lots and lots of video of Archie chasing leaves. Our debut was a hit and we made a plan for winter and spring follow ups! Stay tuned Rhode Island!
In the Burlington School District we’re making a great effort to teach about and recognize the contributions of indigenous people in North America. The Abenaki have inhabited Vermont for 12,000 years while white people have lived here for about 400 years. In honor of Indigenous People’s Day, I shared this story with my students:
The Legend of Maple Syrup
Long ago, the Creator made and gave many gifts to man to help him during his life. The Creator made the lives of the Abenaki People very good, with plenty of food to gather, grow, and hunt. The Maple tree at that time was one of these very wonderful and special gifts from the Creator. The sap was as thick and sweet as honey. All you had to do was to break the end off of a branch and the syrup would flow out.
In these days Gluskabe would go from native village to village to keep an eye on the People for the Creator. One day Gluskabe came to an abandoned village. The village was in disrepair, the fields were over-grown, and the fires had gone cold. He wondered what had happened to the People. He looked around and around, until he heard a strange sound. As he went towards the sound he could tell that it was the sound of many people moaning. The moaning did not sound like people in pain but more like the sound of contentment. As he got closer he saw a large stand of beautiful maple trees. As he got closer still he saw that all the people were lying on their backs under the trees with the end of a branch broken off and dripping maple syrup into their mouths. The maple syrup had fattened them up so much and made them so lazy that they could barely move.
Gluskabe told them to get up and go back to their village to re-kindle the fires and to repair the village. But the people did not listen. They told him that they were content to lie there and to enjoy the maple syrup. When Gluskabe reported this to the Creator, it was decided that it was again time that man needed another lesson to understand the Creator’s ways. The Creator instructed Gluskabe to fill the maple trees with water. So Gluskabe made a large bucket from birch bark and went to the river to get water. He added water, and added more water until the sap was that like water. Some say he added a measure of water for each day between moons, or nearly 40 times what it was as thick syrup.
After a while the People began to get up because the sap was no longer so thick and sweet. They asked Gluskabe “where has our sweet drink gone?” He told them that this is the way it will be from now on. Gluskabe told them that if they wanted the syrup again that they would have to work hard to get it. The sap would flow sweet only once a year before the new year of spring. The People were shown that making syrup would take much work. Birch bark buckets would need to be made to collect the sap. Wood would be needed to be gathered to make fires to heat rocks, and the rocks would be needed to be put into the sap to boil the water out to make the thick sweet syrup that they once were so fond of. He also told them that they could get the sap for only a short time each year so that they would remember the error of their ways. And so it is still to this day, each spring the Abenaki people remember Gluskabe’s lesson in honoring Creator’s gifts and work hard to gather the maple syrup they love so much.
Thank you to the Abenaki people for the discovery of the sweetness within maple trees. While the story above is just a legend, it is true that several thousand years ago, maple sap was collected in birch bark buckets and then boiled by adding hot rocks. While making maple syrup still takes considerable effort, this is good perspective for the modern day sugar maker!
Maple Sugar Chocolate Brownies
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 8 inch square oven-proof dish and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper, about 2 inches of overhang on each side.
Put the flour and salt if using in a small bowl and mix.Set aside.
Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat until it is halfway melted. Take it from the heat and stir until it is all melted. The butter shouldn’t be hot but warm. Add the roughly chopped chocolate into the butter and stir with a spatula. It may take 20-30 seconds until all the chocolate melts. Set aside.
Place the maple sugar and eggs into a large bowl and stir until it is just combined for almost a minute. Don’t over mix so the brownies will be fudgy instead of cakey. Mix in the vanilla.
Pour the butter-chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture and mix until combined, do not overmix.
Add the flour and gently stir with a spatula until just totally combined.
Place the batter into the dish and bake for 35 minutes or until the toothpick has wet crumbs when inserted. When there are some crinkles on top, and the top of the brownies set, it is a sign that it is almost done. The middle of the brownie may look puffy after baked but it will come back to normal as it cools. Check your oven after 30 minutes as baking time may change from oven to oven.
Let it cool in the pan at least 1 hour but preferably longer to cut neat slices.
Cinnamon Maple Sugar
This is so easy to make and can be sprinkled on anything! Mix 1/2 cup of Couching Lion Maple Sugar with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon. Sprinkle on buttered toast, oatmeal, baked squash, popcorn or anything else that needs a little boost.
Enjoy the rest of beautiful October. Here are some pictures from our neck of the woods.
“Breathe the sweetness that hovers in August. “
Welcome to August!
I couldn’t agree with poet Denise Levertov more, there really is a sweetness that hovers in August. Vermont is so beautiful right now. The garden is overflowing with vegetables, our peach tree is drooping with fruit and the fields are bursting with wildflowers. I think the sweetness also comes from holding onto the days we have now as seasonal change is coming,
“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” -Albert Camus
Welcome to July!
As summer rolls in and we mourn the loss of so many beloved traditions and activities due to the pandemic, we’re also faced with examining some uncomfortable truths about our country and ourselves. I like this quote from French philosopher, Albert Camus as it encourages one to ponder how we can improve in our lives and our actions,
“No price is set on the lavish summer; June may be had by the poorest comer. ”
Dear friends, what a tumultuous spring we have had in the United States and worldwide. While the Covid-19 lockdown proved challenging for our hearts and minds, we have also been consumed with the clear and present racism in our country. Our president continues to stoke the flames of hate and has also now worked to limit rights for transgender Americans.
…..bring May flowers, as the saying goes. It happens to be true, but it’s also a nice phrase to cheer us up during these wet and chilly spring days. Up in Huntington we have late season snowfalls and the ground is slow to appear. Although I yearn for the early signs of spring, our northern elevation also means our sugaring season can last later into April. If the weather warms up too quickly, the sugaring season ends abruptly.
As the eighteenth century saying goes, “March, in like a lion, out like a lamb.” Most believe the saying refers to weather which is still quite wintry in the beginning, and possibly more mild by the end of March. This March has proved no different in terms of weather , but also in terms of the confluence of multiple serious illnesses and injuries in our family and the arrival of the coronavirus in Vermont.
February has been a busy month around here! Sugaring season is starting earlier and earlier due to climate change, so we have to adjust our schedules to catch sap when it’s flowing. Matt stopped his restaurant renovation and came back to the farm. He’s been clearing lines that come down due to weather or animals. It’s also a great time to start cutting wood for next year’s sugaring. A friend is coming to help tap tomorrow and we’ll be boiling as soon as there’s enough sap!
Happy new year! We had a busy end to 2019 and rang in 2020 with my mom, sister and her kids who were visiting from Hawaii. They love Vermont and their energy for outdoor play and exploration is contagious. We built a bonfire, hiked, sledded and explored the sugarbush. They were enamored by the birds and woodland creatures, and talked endlessly about environmental concerns and how to take care of the planet. My niece and nephews in Montpelier,