As a native New Englander, I have, for most of my life, taken pure maple syrup for granted. When I was growing up, what seemed like a bottomless jar of the local stuff always had a spot on the refrigerator door shelf, at the ready for pouring liberally over pancakes and French toast. Annual Girl Scout troop outings took us to one sugarhouse or another for a lesson on how sap bubbled its way to syrup, maple snow cones the treat for listening attentively to the producer. And maple sugar candy always made its way into our Easter baskets.

It wasn’t until I lived in Olde England that I realized how dear real maple syrup is to the world outside of northeastern North America where sugar maple trees grow, and cold nights and warmer days in March force the sap to flow. It’s not that you can’t get it in most places – the maple syrup industry is pretty savvy in shipping its product around the world. It’s just that the bottles are small, the price is high, and the market is flooded with cheap imitations.

So when I travel to visit friends anywhere beyond New England (and I’m checking luggage), I bring a bottle of Maine maple syrup to present to my host as a gift. “Oh, this is the good stuff!” And that statement is usually followed by some comment about how they’ll save it for a rainy-day breakfast.

Maple syrup in a Ball jar joins Asian ingredients like chili paste, miso paste, tamari, and toasted sesame oil to make Maple-Miso Ramen. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellete

“Don’t do that!” I respond. Using it early in the day on waffles and often throughout the day at lunch, dinner and snack-time is the best way to keep my local maple industry alive and kicking. Maple syrup needn’t only be for breakfast or for sweets. Think maple-bacon popcorn, Balsamic Caramelized Onion Pizza with Arugula and Maple Drizzle, maple-orange glazed salmon, and Maple-Miso Ramen.

Coombs Family Farm is a Brattleboro, Vermont-based producer and packer of organic maple syrup that sources product from more than 3,000 small family maple farms across the Northeast, 20 percent of those from Maine. According to founder Arnold Coombs, the company buys syrup from these farms whenever they are ready to sell it for a fair price, whether that is at the start of the season in March or in September when Maine farms might have extra barrels that did not get sold to summer visitors. The company has a “part science, part art” process for blending syrup of different grades and farms to yield a consistent product year-round to meet the year-round demand.

A company news release pointed to market research that shows maple could be moving into Pumpkin Spice’s territory as favorite fall flavor. Coombs is pleased with that prediction, as a big part of his company’s business is the wholesale market for food manufacturers looking for a natural sweetener. “It’s going into BBQ sauce, salad dressings, yogurt containers, breakfast cereals, beers, distilled beverages and energy bars,” said Coombs, adding that it’s always been a perfect pairing for pork and for the root vegetables we tend to get a little bored with by this time of year.

The trick to balancing the sweet but subtle flavor of maple syrup in savory dishes, writes Katie Webster in “Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup,” is dialing back on assertive flavors like cinnamon that can mask it (full disclosure: I tested recipes for this book). On the flip side, Webster says maple can curb the edge on more pronounced ingredients like apples, cranberries, ginger, miso, soy, vinegar and winter greens. Go ahead, play with the savory side of maple syrup and support your local supplier beyond the breakfast table.

MAPLE MISO RAMEN

There is maple syrup in both the brine that flavors the protein and the broth that is the base of the soup. The brine works with 1-inch-thick boneless pork chops, boneless chicken breasts and slices of extra-firm tofu.

Serves 3-4

FOR THE BRINE:

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari

1-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, smashed

2 wide strips lime peel

8 ice cubes

8 ounces boneless chicken, pork or extra-firm tofu

FOR THE BROTH:

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms

1 tablespoon grated garlic

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1/4 cup grated white onion

6 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1/4 cup maple syrup

3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 tablespoon white miso paste

1-2 teaspoons Asian chili paste

FOR THE RAMEN:

Vegetable oil

2 packages ramen noodles, cooked

3-4 (6-minute) eggs, peeled and halved

1 cup chopped spinach

1 lime, quartered

1/4 cup sliced scallions

Cilantro leaves

Toasted sesame seeds

To make the brine, in a 4-quart pot over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds until you can just begin to smell them, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and slightly crush the toasted seeds. Place the now-empty pot over medium heat and add 1 cup water and the maple syrup. Stir until syrup is combined with water. Pour the mixture into a non-reactive bowl and add the soy sauce, ginger, garlic and lime peel. Add the ice cubes and stir until they are melted, and the brine is cool. Add the chicken, pork or tofu, cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours. After that time, remove the protein from the brine and pat dry. Discard the brine.

To make the broth, in a 4-quart pot over medium heat, warm the sesame seed oil. Add the mushrooms and stir to coat them in the oil. Let the mushrooms cook undisturbed until one side is browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger and onion. Cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the broth, maple syrup, soy sauce, miso and chili
paste. Simmer broth on low for 10 minutes.

To make the ramen, in a saute pan over medium high heat, pour in enough oil to skim-coat the pan. Saute the brined protein until it is browned on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side for chicken and pork, and 2 minutes per side for tofu.

Assemble the ramen by dividing the noodles, cooked protein, eggs, spinach, lime and scallions into 3 or 4 bowls. Divide the broth among the bowls. Garnish with scallions, cilantro and sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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