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Let’s get this out of the way right now: If you think maple syrup starts with “Log,” “Aunt” or “Mrs.,” then this article is not for you. For those of us who can’t get enough of earthy, rich, delicious maple, well, let’s talk syrup.
I was born and raised in New Hampshire, where maple syrup is as deeply entrenched in the culture as dropped r’s and the Pats. Even today, after living in New York City for more than a decade, one taste of syrup transports me back to a land of Rockwellian memories: sledding down the hill in my front yard, long johns with socks pulled over, making maple candy in the snow at recess, and pancake breakfasts at Parker’s Maple Barn. And, most particularly, that day in late winter when the sun shines extra bright, a whiff of spring blows through the air and the sugar shacks come alive with activity.
I recently wrote a cookbook on this topic (you’ll never guess what it’s called...) that includes twists on classic New England recipes, like a Maple-Poached Lobster Roll, Maple & Root Beer Baked Beans, and Potato Doughnuts with Maple Glaze. But it also veers into uncharted maple syrup territory, pushing the sweet stuff into new dimensions: Wilted Salad with Maple Vinaigrette, Maple Miso Wings, Maple Pudding with Pickled Cherries and Pistachios, and Maple-Poached Eggs—a recipe I’m very excited to share below.
But the point is, it’s time to liberate maple syrup from the pancake box! With a rich, woodsy flavor and sweet snap, it can blend into a wide variety of dishes and make them something great. And it’s my firm belief that any kitchen is incomplete until it has a quality bottle of independently produced maple syrup.
Until recently, maple syrup grading was like the Wild West: Every territory had its own laws on sugar content, grading was a drunken saloon fight of letters, numbers, and descriptions, and choosing the right bottle was sometimes a tricky and disappointing venture. But in late 2014, the International Maple Syrup Institute (obviously my dream workplace) proposed an all–Grade A descriptive system, which the USDA and its Canadian equivalent, the CFIA, have both adopted.
Here’s what to look for in the maple syrup aisle:
- Grade A: Golden Color, Delicate Taste
Replaces: Fancy, AA, Grade A Light, No. 1 Extra Light
This is the featherweight of maple syrups, beautifully pale amber in color, with a very subtle maple flavor. Produced during early sap runs, before the full rush of starches have started pulsing through the tree, it adds a gentle touch to non-competitive foods like oatmeal or yogurt.
- Grade A: Amber Color, Rich Taste
Replaces: Grade A Medium, Grade A Dark, No. 1 Light, No. 1 Medium
Here’s the maple syrup most of us know and love—the gold standard, sturdy and upstanding. This flows freely in mid-season, infused with all the earthy greatness of tree, soil, groundwater, and air. My go-to for breakfast time, baking, cocktails, or glazes, it’ll add just the right touch without getting bossy.
- Grade A: Dark Color, Robust Taste
Replaces: Grade A Dark, Grade B, No. 1 Medium, No. 2 Amber
If you’ve ever tried a (formerly) Grade B maple syrup, you know that it’s a heavy-hitter and should be used judiciously. This is heavy late-season stuff and in my opinion, it’s way too strong to be used as a condiment. But it does add a perfect touch to barbecue sauces or a heavy maple punch on slow-roasting meats.
- Grade A: Very Dark Color, Strong Taste
Replaces: Commercial Grade, No. 3 Dark
Avoid. Until the new grading system, this was only available to commercial facilities that needed a little syrup to go a long way. If you look up “cloying” in the dictionary, you’ll see a photo of me making a sad puckered face after trying a spoonful of this. For the bravest only: It adds an unmistakable maple flavor, so take it really slow.
But no matter which bottle you choose, remember this: The production ratio is about 40 : 1, meaning a massive 40 gallons of maple sap boils down to create just one gallon of maple syrup. The United States produced more than 3 million gallons of maple syrup in 2015, and Canada produced more than 11 million gallons—as in gallons of concentrated syrup. As in one-fortieth of the sap harvest. As in 120 million and 400 million gallons of sap processed through tubes and tanks by human beings. Please support your nearby maple syrup producers; what they do is miraculous.
Now, on to the eggs!
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 2 large eggs
- Buttered toast, for serving
Do you avoid maple syrup on your eggs or do you seek it out? Defend your position in the comments below!