Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
Long before Europeans came to the shores of what is now northeastern America, Indian tribes of Vermont and surrounding areas were gathering sap from the sugar maple trees. They called the sap Sinzigukwud, "sweet buds of spring". The early settlers learned from the tribes how to properly gather this sweet sap and slowly boil it down into maple syrup.
The process for gathering maple sap begins in the autumn of the year, when as much firewood as possible is gathered and stored in or near the sheds where the syrup is made. These sheds are called "sugar shacks" by the people who know all about syrup making.
The actual gathering of the sap begins in late January or early February. The right time is when the temperature drops to freezing at night then warms up during the day to allow the sap to start flowing. The trees are tapped by drilling a hole on the sunniest side of the tree, inserting a spout (stile), then hanging a bucket from the spout. A covering is placed over the bucket to prevent any contamination from debris. It is a long process from gathering the sap to the boiled down syrup. Big fire boxes sit under very large vats. The fires are started and when the right temperature is reached the sap is poured into the vat. Constant watching of the fire and skimming off the foam that gathers on top of the sap is crucial to making good syrup. Once the syrup is made and bottled, then thoughts turn to enjoying this wonderful treat.
There are so many good things you can pour that maple syrup on. Pancakes, waffles, french toast, oatmeal and Dutch babies -- no, no, not real babies! This is a sweet breakfast dish similar to Yorkshire pudding or an omelet. It is a German pancake recipe, called Apfelpfannkuchen in Germany. A Dutch baby is light and airy with sides, so it can hold just about any topping you choose to put on it.
Dutch Baby Pancake
Makes 2 to 4 servings with one large or several small. I prefer to make just one large pancake in my cast iron skillet, but smaller ones can be made in a metal cupcake pan.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract (I always use pure, never artificial)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 teaspoons butter
Let the eggs and milk reach room temperature before beginning the batch. This will aid in the blending process and make a smoother batter.
The traditional way to serve this pancake is with freshly squeezed lemon juice drizzled over it and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. I prefer just butter and maple syrup. Berries, jams, fresh fruits, or canned pie fillings are also good as toppings. Set your table with several choices of toppings.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and make sure the rack is in the middle position. Set the cast iron skillet in oven. The skillet must get hot enough so the butter sizzles when you place it in the pan. Prepare batter.
Place eggs in a large bowl and beat with a wire whip till very light and frothy (I beat them till my arm is ready to fall off). Add the milk, flour, vanilla extract, and cinnamon then beat till the batter is very smooth and creamy. Make sure there are no lumps in batter.
Take the skillet out of oven (careful - hot!). Slap the butter in the skillet and as it melts, spread it around till the entire bottom and sides are coated. Immediately add the batter and return skillet to oven.
Bake at 450 for 20 to 25 minutes. Set a timer. Pancake will puff up quite high around edges and unevenly in the center. When golden brown, remove from oven and serve immediately. It is fun to sit the hot pan on the table as soon as possible so everyone can watch the next process: the pancake will sink in the center and look like a large, uneven shaped bowl. Cut in wedges and let each person put their choice of toppings on. This is a great breakfast for a once a week specialty, served with bacon or sausage and piping hot coffee.
Of course, most folks just prefer a stack of hot old-fashion pancakes with butter melting on top and maple syrup floating over the edges.