One of our best selling product lines here at Glutenfreeda Foods is our gluten-free instant oatmeal made with all natural ingredients; simple and straightforward, with just the right amount of sweetness. One of the ingredients that make our oatmeal so delicious and popular is the pure maple sugar we use and purchase from Coombs Family Farms located in the wooded forests of Vermont.
Last weekend my husband and I had the pleasure of accepting an invitation from the Coombs family, along with several other guests, to experience the yearly flow of maple sap and to witness the entire process of making maple syrup, or ‘sugaring’.
The weekend was educational, as we learned about the harvest and production of maple syrup; beautiful, set in snow covered forests in Vermont and New Hampshire and delicious, we sampled everything maple; including Maple Syrup Mojitos, Maple Syrup Snow Cones (prepared at the sugarhouse where the sap is boiled down into syrup), Maple Glazed Salmon and Maple Syrup Ice Cream served in Dark and White Chocolate Cups, to name a few.
Arnold Coombs and his lovely wife were extraordinary hosts and literally no detail of our comfort was overlooked from the hospitality of the lovely Chesterfield Inn where we stayed to delicious ‘maple inspired’ fine dining and even a stop before returning to the Inn after our day’s tour to Burdick’s, a delectable coffee and gourmet chocolate shop.
Drilling the hole for the tap
Arnold Coombs demonstrating tubing
Let’s talk Maple Syrup
The Coombs family has been farming maple for seven generations. They farm thousands of acres of their own trees as well as sourcing maple from over 1000 other family farms.
Maple farming has changed over the years to a tubing system but if you look closely into some of the forests, you can still see silver buckets hanging from the trunks of trees, just as it was done hundreds of years ago. The buckets are hung on the hook of the tap that is inserted into the tree trunk and the sap slowly fills the buckets. Today, tapping the trees is generally done in the same way with a little modern innovation; a tube is inserted into the drilled hole and connected by tubing to the next tree and the next and the next. The tubes are all connected to a larger tube that is gravity fed down to tanks that sit at the side of mountain roads making the maple easy to retrieve by trucks.
On the way to the Sugar House
Boiling the sap
Woodstove in the Sugar House
Testing the syrup for color
Next Stop: Sugar House
Harvesting syrup is firmly in the hands of Mother Nature. The necessary conditions are freezing nights and warmer days of about 40 degrees F. These conditions occurred right on schedule last week at the end of March. Once the sap has been collected it is transported to a sugarhouse. These are small wooden ‘cabins’ that house an evaporator that boils the sap down into syrup. The effect is wonderful. In the midst of a frosty snow covered forest sits a small cabin with steam billowing out its chimney; a very welcome sight, indeed. Inside, the sugarhouse immediately surrounds one with warmth from the wood stove that fuels the evaporator and the enchanting smell of boiling maple syrup.
After the syrup has been made, it is stored in large metal cans and transported to the production facility. There it is tested for color and flavor and identified accordingly from light to dark. At the production facility, the syrup is processed by blending different syrups together to create desired results, run through a filtering system and is finally readied for packaging.
Maple syrup is naturally gluten-free with nothing added but love of the land and a dedication to nurturing the forest. The Coombs family has been practicing sustainable farming for generations and in fact is still tapping the same trees as Arnold Coombs’ great, great grandfather did years ago.
Inspired by all that is maple, we’d like to share a few recipes of our own in tribute to the Coombs family and the ever giving maple tree.
Cheese Pancakes w/Apples, Bacon and Maple Syrup
- 1-1/3 cup gf flour
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
- 1-1/3 cup gf plain or vanilla yogurt
- 1-1/4 cup cheese, shredded
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 2 Tablespoons gf Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
- 2 gf bacon slices
- 6 cups Granny Smith apples, sliced and peeled
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- Pure maple syrup
Cook bacon in a medium skillet until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and reserve the bacon grease. Crumble bacon and set aside. Add the apple slices and sugar to the skillet and saute until apples are soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Mix in bacon. Keep mixture warm.
Warm maple syrup.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and nutmeg in a bowl. Combine yogurt, cheese, water, mustard, oil and eggs. Add yogurt mixture to flour mixture and stir until blended. Heat a non-stick griddle or skillet on medium-high and add 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Turn pancakes when surface appears dry and bubbles appear.
Serve pancakes with apple and bacon topping. Pour warm maple syrup over top. Serve immediately.
Chicken with Maple Syrup - Pepper Sauce
- One whole chicken
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 fresh rosemary sprigs
- 1/2 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 3/4 cup gf Chicken Stock
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- Rosemary sprigs for garnish
Cut the backbone out of the chicken using kitchen shears (cut to the right and left of the backbone to remove). Pat the chicken dry and spread it flat, skin side up, on a cutting board. Tuck the wing tips under the breast. Sprinkle the chicken all over with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large cast iron or heavy non-stick skillet over medium heat until the foam subsides. Add the chicken skin side down, and arrange 2 rosemary sprigs over the chicken. Cover the skillet and cook until the skin is browned about 15-20 minutes. Remove the lid and the rosemary (reserve). Carefully loosen the chicken from the skillet with a spatula. Turn the chicken over and replace the rosemary on top the chicken. Cover and continue to cook until the chicken is just cooked through, about 20 minutes longer.
While the chicken cooks make the sauce:
Toast the peppercorns in a dry 1 quart saucepan over medium heat, shaking periodically, for about 3 minutes or until fragrant. Transfer the peppercorns to a clean cutting board and coarsely crush with a rolling pin. Return the peppercorns to the pan and add the syrup, 1/2 cup chicken stock, and the remaining rosemary sprig; bring to a simmer. Simmer mixture for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the chicken is cooked through, transfer to a platter and tent loosely with foil to keep warm. Add the cider vinegar to the skillet and deglaze by scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the maple syrup mixture and remaining 1/4 cup chicken stock and boil until the mixture is thickened slightly, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring until blended in. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the sauce through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding the solids. Carve the chicken and serve with the sauce. Garnish with rosemary sprigs.
Maple Sugar Pumpkin Pie with Rum Cream
- 1-1/4 cup gf flour mix
- 6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 Tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 Tablespoons ice water, or more as needed
- 2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
- 2 cups canned pumpkin puree
- 3/4 cup maple sugar
- 1-1/2 cups cream
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
For rum cream:
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 2 Tablespoons rum
- 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Place the gf flour and salt in a medium bowl. Using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut the butter and shortening into the flower and salt mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 2 tablespoons of ice water and mix just until incorporated. Continue to add more ice water as needed, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a smooth dough. Form the dough into a disk, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly gf floured surface. (We use an extra large Silpat - a sort of "rubber" non-stick mat - which really helps prevent the dough from sticking to the bottom surface.) Lightly flour the surface of the dough with gf flour. Roll the pastry to a large round, about 12-inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch pie dish, trim to within 1/2 inch of the pan, and crimp decoratively. You may find that the outer edges will break off before you can fold them under and crimp - just use excess dough and press onto the outer edge to form and even edge then crimp. Prick with a fork, cover and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Bake for 15 minutes or until light brown in color. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Add eggs, yolk and pumpkin to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat well. Beat in sugar, cream, melted butter, salt and all spices. Set the pastry shell on a baking sheet and pour the filling into the crust. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted 1" from the edge comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
For rum cream:
Whip the cream to soft peaks then add rum and powdered sugar and continue to whip to stiff peaks.
Top warm or cold pie with rum cream and serve.
- Chef Yvonne