March is a dreary month in New England. We are sick of snow and desperate for sunshine and warmth, but nature isn’t quite ready to commit to spring. It’s lions and lambs all month long…warm and summery one day, and snowing the next.
The one redeeming thing about March in New England is two little words…maple syrup.
In cold climate areas like New England, Maple trees store starch in their stems and roots before the winter. In the spring, the starch is converted to sugar and rises in the sap. The trees are tapped for their sap, which is then collected and boiled in a “sugar shack” to evaporate the water, leaving maple syrup behind. It takes a whopping 40-50 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup, which explains its high price.
I had thought my chances of visiting a traditional sugar shack were slim to none this year, but then I heard about the annual Somerville Maple Syrup Boil Down, taking place literally around the corner from my house at the Somerville Community Growing Center.
Over 250 gallons of sap from the Maple trees in my lovely city were collected and transported in large plastic buckets to be boiled down in the Somerville Growing Center evaporation “trough” (my word, I just don’t know what else to call it). It was a warm day and many people turned out to taste the sap, watch the syrup being made, and sample some already-made syrup on waffles.
I’ve compiled a few photos of the sap in buckets, boiling and evaporating in the enormous “trough”, and the stockpot of finished syrup.
After spending a few hours in maple syrup heaven, I knew I needed to bake something with it. I turned to my trusty Yankee Magazine Cookbook, and found the perfect recipe for Vermont Maple Cookies. It’s appropriate that they are named after Vermont, since it’s the Green Mountain State that is the largest maple syrup producer in America.
The dough looked and smelled like softened maple walnut ice cream, and the texture was perfect for shaping by hand. It was soft but not sticky.
These cookies are soft, chewy, and deliciously buttery. The light maple flavor (I used Grade A, but you can get more maple flavor from a Grade B syrup) and crunch of chopped walnuts gives them some real personality.
I included these cookies in a care package to my friend Kate in Portland. She is in the home stretch of her pregnancy, so I thought some cookies would be just the thing. I only hope they didn’t arrive in 100 pieces…
Vermont Maple Cookies
Adapted from Yankee Magazine Cookbook
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup maple syrup*
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, plus more for tops
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment. If not using parchment, do not grease.
- In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in egg and vanilla.
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with maple syrup.
- Blend well, then fold in nuts.
- Pinch off 2 Tbsp. size pieces of dough and shape into a rough ball. Top with a small cluster of walnut pieces.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until light golden brown around the edges.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then store in an airtight container.
*If you like a stronger maple flavor, use Grade B syrup, which is darker and has a more robust flavor.