Hello from wintry Maine. We are three days into spring, but winter remains tenacious. It was a brisk 12º this morning. We, however, did not let the cold stop us from visiting a sugar shack for Maine Maple Syrup Sunday. Under a brilliant blue sky and whipping winds (it was near zero with the wind chill) we huddled into Jo’s SugarHouse at Hartwell Farms in Gorham. We huddled around the boiler and sampled the range of light to dark syrup. I walked away with a prized bottle of rich amber and maple cotton candy for the sweet-toothed teens. I learned my lesson from last year when I carted home the early season light syrup, which wasn’t bold enough for me. This year, I made sure to get the rich amber, which has that distinctive, smoky maple flavor. The sugaring season is slow to start this year (much like last year) because the farmers can’t access as many trees as they normally would due to the big blanket of snow that still covers the ground here.
The woman doling out samples informed us that long before the advent of tin containers and jelly jars – pre-1609 – Native Americans carried and consumed their maple syrup in solid, sugar form. They boiled sap by dropping red hot stones into hollowed out tree limbs. (I envision mini-kayaks.) They would let it harden into maple sugar, which was portable as they traveled, hunted and otherwise made their way around the land. It could be eaten as sugar or reconstituted as syrup when they were near a fire source. European settlers brought iron kettles which changed the sugaring process significantly, and these boiling cauldrons became harbingers of spring across New England.
Since maple syrup is perfectly sweet, you don’t need much to brighten a recipe. I borrowed this recipe from Martha Stewart and added a pop of cranberry. This is a European-style cereal that is made with little to no fat, unlike its more indulgent cousin, granola. Muesli plays the same role as granola as a yogurt topping or on its own as cereal. Or, use it as a base for trail mix. This recipe comes together quickly. You could make it in the morning and serve it for breakfast.
I added a step that you can certainly skip. Fresh cranberries were languishing in the freezer, so I roasted them with olive oil and maple syrup in a 350º oven. Use enough olive oil and syrup to thoroughly moisten the berries and then spread on a cookie sheet. Don’t stir the berries while roasting as they tend to clump together. Roast until they have popped and started to dry out, about 25 minutes. Turn off the oven, and let them dry further. You can also simply buy a bag of dried cranberries! Spoiled for choices!
Last year, I was cooking Halibut and Shellfish en Papillote.
Maple Muesli with Coconut and Cranberry
Makes 5 generous cups
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup dried or roasted cranberries
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried coconut flakes
2 T sesame seeds
2 T olive oil
2 T maple syrup (the good stuff)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp sea salt
1. Roast cranberries, if you are adding this step. Let dry.
2. Combine all ingredients (except cranberries) in a large mixing bowl. Spread on a cookie sheet, and bake at 325º for 20 minutes. Stir once or twice as the oats can singe on the corners.
3. Fold in cranberries and store in jars.
- I have used both organic coconut flakes (big ones) and sweetened flaked coconut. Both are lovely. For the lower sugar version, option for the fresh, dried flakes.
- Herbed sea salt was what I had on hand, and I liked the savory with the sweet here, so experiment with the salt type and amount.