Monthly Archives: March 2010

Give me some sugar, baby—maple sugar.

Just after boiling, the syrup was still cloudy. In the fridge it settled to the clear amber ambrosia we know and love.

Man-cakes with local syrup.

By now the sap seems to have stopped flowing, and we are taking in the buckets; the trees are hoarding sugar for their own selfish annual project of waking up and growing. This morning W. and I invited friends to polish off our first batch of Isthmus Maple Syrup atop some worthy buttermilk man-cakes and waffles. Once we saw how much sap it took to make that little half-pint jar, we had been hoarding it ourselves, like Gollum with his Precious.

In case you have syrup ambitions yourself, the vinyl tubing system worked pretty well, but next year we will try slightly larger holes and some proper spiles (the spouts you stick in the tree) to see if we get more sap that way. The turkey fryer is a must in the urban neighborhood, so often prejudiced against backyard bonfires.

Alas, poor us—Back to Pie Town

Last weekend W. brought home the first oyster mushroom of the year. A little one with a thick stem, a little soggy from spring rain but still promising. We ate it in an omelet, and it spurs us to find more. But today we woke up to snow. O. Alas.

Consolation: We go to Pie Town—in spirit, at least. That’s Pie Town, New Mexico, on the Continental Divide.

I was coming from Show Low, Arizona, one day on my motorcycle trip in November. I peered at the map to see my route; I was planning to cut south, because there was snow on the ground where I was and I just couldn’t get warm. But there in the sparsest part of the map, past the border in New Mexico, there was a dot labeled Pie Town.

Pie Town has two competing pie restaurants, and I chose the Daily Pie Cafe, which is on the right if you’re coming from Arizona, and by far the more famous. I was wearing every layer I had, so it took me a while to peel down. I ate two pieces of pie, the custard and the New Mexico green-chile pine-nut apple pie, a specialty of theirs, which I had learned about at the gas station some miles before by asking which kind of pie was the local favorite. I regretted only that the pieces were not as large as I would have liked.

I offered just such an apple pie for a donation pledge during my radio show at WORT-FM last week, and was delighted to find the recipe online, at the Daily Pie’s website. Technically it doesn’t call for charring fresh jalapenos, but why waste an opportunity to have fun with open flames?

Spring is bacon time!

Another local-pig-done-good story. Jordandal Farm, I think.

Honestly, what season isn’t? But it warmed up quite a bit last weekend, my friend Mike had a couple of pork bellies and a butterflied shoulder he’d cured, and I was the one with the smoker. As we learned, bacon is very, very easy to make (I direct you to Charcuterie). Especially since all I had to do was throw it on the smoker and wait a few hours.

In the meantime I went for a motorcycle ride in the sun, stopped by the Community Supported Agriculture crowd at Monona Terrace to pick out a CSA, and had a lamb crepe and espresso with my man-friend at Bradley’s, near the Capitol. When I got back there was a delicious smell, accompanied by only the merest twinge of potential guilt at the likelihood that one of my East Side neighbors is vegetarian. (It seems like that kind of place.)

As Sundays go, it was well spent.

For reasons I cannot yet disclose, I do not get to eat the bacon. The scraps I appropriated are divine, though.

The sap is flowing!

The sun came out and warmed everything up, meaning I had a lot more becell-phoned people to bike around after months of auto-pilot on Madison’s bike paths. On the plus side, the maple syrup experiment is off to a promising start. W. reports the buckets are already sloshing.

Drilling holes in trees looks very satisfying, doesn't it?

It’s W.’s project, as you know. He ID’d the trees back when they still had clothes on. And he bought the turkey fryer back in January, which I have not been able to convince him to use on turkeys as well as maple sap. I suspect he has secret vegetarian tendencies. He set it up today; it is a surprisingly complex gadget.

He also got a cordless drill from Wal-Mart this morning.

Does that make us Wal-Mart hippies? (Or bad people?)

W.’s system is simple: Drill hole in tree; insert aquarium tubing, whose other end leads into a bucket. It feels very Little House in the Woods.

I cannot disclose the location or ownership of our trees, though I quote the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association when I say, defensively, “Many trees have been tapped every year for well over a hundred years.”

But I will say we are glad the lid on the buckets fit tightly. Several curious passers-by already attempted to pry it off and peer inside. People! Please! It’s like 40:1, sap:syrup. You’re not going to be sticking your finger in pure maple syrup.