Don’t let all the snow and cold temperatures fool you: It’s the Sunday after the first day of spring and officially Maine Maple Sunday, the annual celebration of spring’s sweet nectar.

Dozens of maple syrup producers across the state will open their doors today to offer the public a look at the process and a taste of the magic . . . and likely bring back memories for many visitors.

Gloria Varney of Nezinscot Farm in Turner, who grew up in a family of 10 children, recalls: “We used to gather up a bowl of fresh clean snow and bring it in the house. My mother drizzled maple syrup over the snow in a light stream so that it hardened to a taffy consistency. We picked it up in strings and, of course, devoured it as fast as she could lay down more.”

Today, the Varneys — who get their syrup from Hall Family Farm in Canton, an organic maple syrup producer — enjoy maple syrup drizzled into a bowl of their own yogurt, which is made from milk from their cows and goats. Varney then mixes that with coconut, dried cranberries, walnuts and sunflower seeds. In the farm’s cafe, she offers homemade granola sweetened with maple syrup as an accompaniment to fruit and yogurt parfaits.

It’s one of the many ways to use maple syrup. There’s good reason to include maple syrup in your recipes: Did you know maple syrup possesses compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties similar to blueberries, green tea and other “superfoods”?

Scientific research conducted at the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy concluded that maple syrup contains zinc, iron, vitamin B, potassium, magnesium, manganese and calcium. It also has healing antibacterial properties, may ward off cancer and diabetes, slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis, and help support a healthier circulatory and immune system, according to that research.

This isn’t to say you should swig this sweet stuff by the glassful (although I know you want to). Maple syrup is still sugar. But with a glycemic load of 63 per 1/2 cup, it’s a healthier sweetener than white sugar, honey, molasses and agave nectar.

To substitute maple syrup for sugar in recipes, use 2/3 to 3/4 cup syrup for 1 cup sugar. If you’re baking, also reduce the overall liquid in the recipe by three tablespoons and turn the oven temperature down by 25 degrees.

What to use it in? Feel free to think beyond pancakes and waffles. Maple syrup can be incorporated into vinaigrette, used in a marinade for pork, brushed on salmon and drizzled on popcorn. I’ve used my favorite sweetener to fancy up roasted Brussels sprouts, winter squash and root vegetables. It’s also delicious splashed into a cocktail or used as a dip for bacon!

Today, the owners of two area farms share their favorite maple-licious recipes in honor of Maine Maple Sunday.

Jillson’s Farm

Scott Jillson of Jillson’s Farm in Sabattus, which will be open on Maine Maple Sunday, contributed these two decadent recipes. If anyone makes this luscious cake, let me know. I’ll be right over with my fork!

Maple layer cake

Serves 12-14

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

2 cups maple syrup

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and dust with flour. Tap out any excess flour and set pans aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add maple syrup and beat until combined. Add in eggs and beat until combined. In a separate bowl sift together dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture and beat to combine. Beat in milk and vanilla. Divide batter between the two prepared pans. Bake until golden and a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Maple buttercream frosting

6 large egg yolks

2 cups maple syrup

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

Whisk egg yolks on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bringing to a boil. Cook until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees, about 15 minutes. Remove syrup from heat. While the electric mixer is running, pour the syrup in a slow, steady stream down the side of the mixing bowl into the beaten yolks. (It’s important that the syrup runs down the side of the bowl as you pour it in.) Beat for 5-6 minutes. While the mixer is still running, add butter, one piece at a time, until all of it has been completely mixed in and the frosting is fluffy, about 4 minutes more.

Remove cakes from pans and place one on a plate. Spread 1 1/2 cups frosting evenly over the top. Place the second cake layer on top then spread the remaining frosting around the sides and over the top.

Oatmeal scones with maple glaze

Serves 12

3 1/2 cups flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup quick-cooking oats

2 tablespoons baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 pound cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup cold buttermilk

1/2 cup maple syrup

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients then blend in butter with an electric mixer at its lowest speed, mix until the butter is in pea-size pieces. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, syrup and eggs and add to the flour mixture, stirring gently just until blended. Turn dough onto a well-floured surface; roll the dough to 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Cut into 3-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or cut into squares or triangles with a knife. Place on a baking sheet lined with waxed or parchment paper. Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden.

Icing

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle over scones after they’ve cooled for a few minutes.

Megquier Hill Farm

Peter and Kathie Bolduc of Harvest Hill Farms offered these two recipes incorporating maple syrup. Their Megquier Hill Farm in Poland will be open for Maine Maple Sunday.

Maple baked beans

10 servings

1 pound dried white beans, such as navy or great northern

4 1/2 cups water

2 tablespoons oil

1 large onion

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cup maple syrup

1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Simmer beans in 4 1/2 cups water for approximately 2 hours. Heat oil in pan and saute onion until golden. Mix onion, syrup, dry mustard, ginger and salt in a bean pot. Add beans and enough water to cover. Place cover on pot and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 2 hours. Add water throughout as necessary to keep beans moist. Uncover beans and bake for another 45-60 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.

Maple cinnamon French toast

Serves 3-4

4 tablespoons butter

1 1/4 cup maple syrup, divided

2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided

3 large eggs

1 cup half-and-half

2 teaspoons vanilla

4-5 slices of your favorite bread

Bring 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 cup syrup to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Mix eggs, half and half, vanilla, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 cup syrup in mixing bowl. In a large baking dish pour egg mixture over bread and turn to coat. Let stand 5 minutes.

Melt 2 1/2 tablespoons butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Fry bread until golden brown. Serve with remaining syrup mixture.

Maine Maple Sunday is today

For a sweet, color-coded map of the many maple syrup producers taking part in Maine Maple Sunday today, go to the Maine Maple Producers Association website at http://www.mainemapleproducers.com/maine-maple-sunday-map.html

Or visit the Maine Department of Agriculture’s site at:  http://www.getrealmaine.com

For general information on Maine maple producers, go to http://www.mainemapleproducers.com/


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