Friday, March 5, 2010

Making Soup and Adopting Trees

The week here in Milwaukee has been warm and sunny, so my mind has drifted pretty far from thoughts of hot, nourishing soup.  But, I did promise you guys that I'd post recipes for the split pea soup and the clam chowder we served for February Soup Night.  So, I'm going to be true to my word.

But first, let's talk maple syrup. Are you a fan?
For years, I didn't think much of the amber colored sweetener. Sure, I learned in school that the sugar maple is Wisconsin's state tree, but despite the fact that it's sweet and sugary, I probably wouldn't have named maple syrup among my favorite foods. It was something I ate on my pancakes in the morning, and occasionally drizzled over the top of vanilla ice cream.  It wasn't until much later, when I realized that maple syrup is actually a fairly rare commodity in some places, that I really started paying attention.

I'm no expert on maple sugaring. That said, I do know that the weather we've been having lately is actually pretty perfect for tapping maple trees. Maple sap starts running when the weather is above freezing during the day and below freezing at night -- so conditions couldn't be more perfect.  Probably why March 15-April 15th has been declared "Maple Syrup Month" in Wisconsin.

A friend of my grandparents tapped maple trees on their property when I was child, so I've seen the process in action. I remember walking through the woods and poking my fingers into the buckets hanging on the trees and tasting the flavor of that pure, clear syrup. And I'll admit that, as an adult, it's occasionally crossed my mind that it might be a fun project to tap a few trees out on my parents' property and see if I could make a little syrup of my own.  But, that idea has never really gotten past the contemplation stage.

So, when I saw Nancy Stohs article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week, I paid attention. Apparently, Steven Anderson, a maple sugarer in northern Wisconsin has decided that it's high time someone recognized Wisconsin for its maple syrup production.  And he's launched a maple tree adoption program to rally support for his craft.

Adopt A Maple is a year-long opportunity for maple syrup lovers to connect with a real, live Sugar Maple tree in the Northwoods sugarbush of Anderson's Maple Syrup in Cumberland, WI.  Adoptees get an official certificate of adoption, and they have year-round visiting rights. In addition, part of their donation goes to support American Forests, a group that helps to plant trees to restore areas damaged by wildfire. Even cooler than that, some 7th and 8th grade science students in Cumberland are plotting out the GPS coordinates and uploading photos of the trees so that people can view their adoptive maples through Google Earth.  Pretty fun.  If you're curious, check out the details at www.andersonsmaplesyrup.com .

And now, it's time for that soup.
These are two of our favorite soups.  The split pea can be made in the crockpot, so it makes a great meal for busy weeknights.  The barley makes the soup extra hearty and adds a bit of texture while the chicken-apple sausages add a nice sweet-salty flavor.

Split Pea Soup with Barley & Chicken Sausage

The clam chowder, on the other hand, is simply decadent.  Smoky bacon adds a great deal of flavor, and a combination of whole milk and heavy cream lend the soup a seriously luxurious mouthfeel.  You could definitely make this with fresh clams, but good quality canned clams work splendidly -- and cut out a bit of the grunt work.

New England Style Clam Chowder

Maybe now I'll see if I can dig up some favorite recipes using maple syrup...

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9 comments:

  1. So much a fan of maple syrup...and I get a gallon each spring from an Amish farm about 10 minutes from my parent's "farm". The same farm (but different family member) let us watch the whole sugaring process one year awhile back, and what I loved the most was the sweet smell in the March air as we walked down a hill and through a field to their sugar shack. The ability to see that firsthand totally deepened my love for this, and when I get towards the bottom of my stash, I get downright stoogy with it!

    Some years, I'm lucky and get the deepest, darkest, nearly black amber syrup - my favorite. Some years I get middle of the road honey colored. It's all good. I must have missed that JS article, so thank you so much for posting about it! I've got to go and check it out. Wisconsin maple syrup is really something special. Take that, Vermont!

    Glad to have those soup recipes, too! We are all lucky to have the online Burp! Cookbook!

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  2. That adopt a maple tree sounds kinda neat.

    While I'm not a "pea" person I've recently been told by one of my twins that he is and his siblings concurred that they are as well. A not so subtle hint that they want peas. Your soup sounds waaay better than just opening up a can of peas. :) Now your clam chowder sounds right up my alley and I even bought some canned clams to try making some.

    Happy Friday!
    ~ingrid

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  3. You inspired me...I just adopted a tree for the kids!
    Thanks, that felt good!

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  4. I am not a maple syrup fan at all, I don't even use it on my pancakes! Though I do appreciate the art of making it

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  5. Last year I tapped our sugar maple but did not get much sap but I was a bit late. But thanks so much for this reminder, I tapping this afternoon because the buds are starting to swell which means the sap is running!

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  6. I love maple syrup and love maple flavored anything. The maple candy from Vermont is a favorite of mine.

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  7. my husband and his love for pancakes and french toast has made me fall in love with maple syrup...and man would i love to harvest some myself!

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  8. I am from Maple Syrup Land too! Just on the other side of the country! :)

    So if you adopt a tree, do you get the syrup? YUMMMMMMM

    I am pretty much going to try to start using mostly maple syrup and maple sugar in our house...

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  9. Lo, either of those soups would be great after a few hours working in the sugar bush! At our place--not too far from Cumberland--there's no sap action yet, and the nights have been above freezing for several days. Hoping for more seasonable weather to get things flowing.

    We made our own syrup for the first time last year--good fun, and great to have a supply we can use with some abandon. But: You CANNOT IMAGINE the amount of boiling required to turn sap to syrup until you've done it!

    Cheers~ Brett

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