Pancakes drenched in maple syrup; just another ordinary New York morning lost to time and distance. Then a smell… a taste nudges a forgotten synapse awake in a ting of recognition. A cascade of memories, tiny bubbles dissipate as soon as they surface… Enough to recall, yet not enough to grasp.
It is a New England version of Proust’s madeleine, a dainty cookie that swept him back to childhood at the first bite. If I could put thoughts to words it would be a random clatter, a reunion among newly awakened neurons. “Remember eating that pecan maple roll while biking in the Catskills?” “We never did stop at the maple farm on the way to Slide Mountain” “’I’d do anything to smell the autumn woods” “Will I ever see the sun shining on an ice coated forest again?” In reality, it can’t be translated but only felt.
Then I’m back in my kitchen in Israel with a bottle of Vermont’s best, an empty spoon in my hand. It was a souvenir of last summer, bought on the final leg of our great Elk-Mobile trip, in a place we never heard of and will never forget. The clerk, straight backed and acerbic, gave us a “you break it you buy it” in lieu of a welcome. She had already marked us as browsers, with our campervan clothes and rowdy kids. But when items started piling near the cash register, a transaction imminent she softened her tone.
“Don’t buy grade A if you want flavor. It’s the first syrup of the season and the ground hasn’t had a chance to thaw yet. “ She continued “The ground holds all the minerals and when that gets drawn up into the tree it effect the flavor the syrup” We bought grade B, dark amber, a glowing liquid flowing with stories of the land. Like wine, each year the syrup, even of a single tree changes its character depending on rainfall, temperature, sunlight and method and time of harvest. Who knows, perhaps even the rotation of the stars. If they grew sugar maples in France they’d call this terroir, but here they call it Vermont Maple Syrup.
Sadly, we’re almost out, even after strict rationing and licking the plates clean. I’ll have to go back to that shop somewhere in Vermont, to bring back a couple of bottles and perhaps a few more memories.
Although the pecan- maple combination is typical of the North East, we never made them while growing up. Pecan trees, incidentally, have acclimatized to central Israel despite being endemic to south-central North America. There are several trees growing in my neighborhood and the crows have found ingenious ways to crack them. They sit on an electric wire over a road and drop it from their beaks, the pecan snapping open as it hits the asphalt.
This recipe was adopted by Carine Goren from her book Sweet Secrets. Although this is not a layered cookie, it can be enjoyed as one; first the soft sweetness of the powdered sugar, a flurry of snowflakes on lips and fingertips, then the crunch of the pecans and finally creamy, indulgent butter.
200 grams butter, softened (don’t use margarine, it’s just not the same)
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour (280 grams)
Pinch of salt
200 grams roughly ground pecans (about two cups)
For the coating
About two cups of powdered sugar
- In a mixer or my hand, blend the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup and vanilla until creamy.
- Add the flour and salt and mix until incorporated (too much mixing toughens the dough). Add the pecans and continue to mix until uniform.
- Cover the batter with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes so it hardens slightly and is easier to manipulate.
- Preheat oven to 170⁰C.
- Take a pecan size piece of dough and roll it between the palms of your hands to create a small ball, about 3 cm across. Set on a baking tray lined with parchment paper making sure there is space between each cookie. When all the dough has been rolled, bake for about 20 minutes. The cookies should still be light colored with a hint of gold.
- Cool completely and then roll in the powdered sugar. Store in an airtight box at room temperature.
Interesting maple facts and links
Frog run is the last sugar sap harvest of the season, so called because of the sound of chirping frogs coinciding with it.
According to Native American legend maple trees once produced pure syrup until the god Ne-naw-Bo-zhoo, decided to dilute the sap. He thought the syrup was too easy to gather and would not be appreciated. (this piece of folklore was written on a pamphlet given to me from the shop)
Yael visits a maple farm in Canada in her post Memories of maple.