Maple syrup is famously made in spring, when below-freezing nights followed by warm days cause the sap stored in a sugar maple’s trunk to flow up and out of the tree and into buckets or plastic tubing for boiling.
But for many, the thick, sugary liquid American Indians cooked in wooden troughs heated by red-hot rocks, long before any settlers arrived, rivals pumpkin-spice as the quintessential fall flavor.
Now is when the apples, Brussels sprouts, root vegetables and hearty winter squashes associated with autumnal eating are in ample supply at farmers markets and grocery stores, and all pair perfectly with the sweet, caramel-y flavor of maple. Fall is also major pancake and French toast season, and drowning the fluffy breakfast foods with maple syrup isn’t just tasty: It’s sacrosanct.
Luckily for those who can’t get enough of the real deal, it’s fairly easy to find a bottle or can of Pennsylvania-made maple syrup in and around the Pittsburgh region. While Vermont reigns supreme when it comes to production (2.5 million gallons in 2022 alone), as a whole, Pennsylvania maple farmers collected, boiled and bottled a respectable 164,000 gallons of syrup this year. That makes us among the top seven syrup-producing states in the U.S., according to the USDA.
There’s also a new cookbook by one of the region’s premier maple syrup producers that shows the home cook all the delicious ways to incorporate the sweetening liquid into just about every meal, and then some.
“Maple Syrup Recipes with Tips and Tales from Hurry Hill Maple Farm” by Janet Woods includes dozens of maple-centric recipes along with more than 100 cooking tips, anecdotes and stories about maple sugaring.
Woods has been making maple syrup her whole life on the 55-acre maple farm she grew up on, following in the footsteps of her parents, Paul and Mary, who also both grew up on Erie County farms. They built a sugarhouse on Hurry Hill in 1958 to supplement their work as dairy farmers.
Back in the day, Woods says, most farms in Northwestern Pennsylvania had maple trees along with tillable fields, streams and orchards. During the “season of mud and snow” between winter and spring, when it’s too muddy to work the fields or spread manure on soft earth, farmers were “itchin’” to get outside and work.
Maple sugaring provided that opportunity, “and my father hoped to make enough income from maple syrup sales to pay the taxes and buy some cabbage seed,” Woods says. Her mother would boil down the sap they hand collected from 2,000 buckets into the night after teaching in a one-room school all day.
Janet Woods was recently honored by Preservation Erie for her efforts to preserve the maple heritage of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
At its peak, Hurry Hill’s old-school sugarhouse — it uses a wood-fired evaporator instead of propane or gas to heat the sap — produced about 450 gallons of artisan syrup a year. Last year, Woods only tapped 20 trees for about 55 gallons of syrup, so she could devote more time to another growing passion: the nonprofit Hurry Hill Farm Maple Museum she opened in 2009 next to the Fry Road farm in an effort to preserve, interpret and promote the region’s maple-sugaring heritage.
“I’m eager to share the craft and sell the product,” she says, “but I’m more interested in people visiting the museum and reading the book” for which the sugarhouse is named, the 1957 Newbery Award-winning children’s novel “Miracles on Maple Hill” by Virginia Sorensen.
Charmingly illustrated by Waterford artist Cynthia Beck, the cookbook includes 170 recipes, in categories that run the gamut from breakfast and appetizers to fruits and vegetables, entrees, candy and desserts. You’ll also find more than a dozen recipes for cookies and pies, including the farm’s award-winning “Snowplow Pie” that’s made with just four ingredients: a prepared graham cracker crust, cream cheese, whipped topping and maple sugar crumb.
“I’m not proprietary,” Woods, 74, says of the spiral-bound recipes, many of which were gathered from friends and relatives over the decades from yellowed notecards or written on scraps of paper and left in the sugarhouse. Others were gleaned from fellow sap gatherers and maple farmers she knows from the Pennsylvania Farm Show, where she has competed (and won multiple ribbons, including Best of Show) in various maple categories for nearly two decades.
One reason it took so long to get the book into maple-lovers hands was she couldn’t find a publisher. Nobody, she laments, wanted to make a hardback cookbook that would stand up like a tent, with syrup-friendly wipeable pages that would “lessen your chance of wrecking it.”
“I wanted it to be unique so people can’t pass it up,” she explains — a product that would look just as in place on a coffee table as it would on a kitchen counter. It ended up eventually being printed in China.
Supply chain issues during the pandemic didn’t help either, and she also at one point lost all the recipes to a computer failure. In addition, given her teaching roots, each recipe had to be field-tested at least three times — sometimes more — by her group of volunteers, to assure it would be up to snuff.
The stories document everything she’s learned over her lifetime about maple syrup, and they also answer all the typical questions people ask about sugaring, which Woods says is a unique part of farming that, as an educator, she aims to preserve.
“It wasn’t going to be just a literary book, or a cookbook, but both,” she says, adding, “There’s a lot of science and a whole lot of art to making it.”
As more people come to appreciate where their food comes from, thanks to interest in local foods, Woods hopes maple syrup becomes a bigger part of the conversation.
“This is the only sugaring region in the world,” she says.
Serves 4-6. “Maple Syrup Recipes with Tips and Tales from Hurry Hill Maple Farm” by Janet Woods
This recipe is one of Janet Woods’ all-time favorites. This time of year, it’s the perfect shareable dish for a tailgate party. I doubled the amount of crackers and spices for extra-crunchy chicken.
To make maple mustard, bring 11/2 cups of pure maple syrup to a boil at 240 degrees. Add 1 cup yellow mustard and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use. (Rub butter on the inside rim of the pan to prevent boil-overs.)
30 Ritz crackers, finely crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
Dash of black pepper
3 eggs, beaten
4 boneless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
Maple Mustard, to serve
2 tablespoons butter, melted, divided
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix crushed crackers, salt, pepper, and garlic and onion powders in a large bowl. Set next to bowl with beaten eggs.
Dip chicken slices into cracker mixture, then egg, then crackers again. Place on greased cookie pan with raised edges. Drizzle with half the melted butter.
Bake for 10 minutes, then turn chicken over and drizzle the other side with remaining melted butter. Bake for about 10 more minutes, until chicken reaches 165 degrees.
Serve with Maple Mustard.
Old-time Maple Gingerbread
“Maple Syrup Recipes with Tips and Tales from Hurry Hill Maple Farm” by Janet Woods
This is a light and delicate cake that’s perfect as a nosh with afternoon tea or coffee. It’s also super easy to prepare.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, beaten
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup sour cream
Whipped cream, for serving
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch square baking pan.
Sift dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix maple syrup with beaten egg. Add sour cream and mix well.
Combine the dry mixture and syrup mixture. Pour cake batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 30-40 minutes. To tell if it’s done baking, insert a toothpick in the center of the cake; it should come out clean.
Serve warm with whipped cream.
Monster Maple Cookies
Makes 24 cookies. Lenox Bakery via runamokmaple.com
The maple flavor is subtle in the cookie part of this recipe, but it shines through in the glaze. I used Runamok Apple Brandy Barrel-Aged syrup. For a fun Halloween-themed treat, decorate the cookies with candy eyeballs.
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
21/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
48 candy eyeballs, optional
For maple glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and light brown sugar for 2-3 minutes. Add in the eggs, maple syrup and vanilla. Mix in flour and baking soda.
Scoop the batter into rounds the size of a ping-pong ball and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake for about 10 minutes or until they have just started to brown at the edges. Remove from the oven to let cool.
To make the glaze, mix the powdered sugar, maple syrup and milk together until well-combined. Drizzle the glaze over the cookies to create a mummy-like pattern. Top with candy eyeballs.
Fried Brussels Sprouts With Maple Cider Glaze
Brussels sprouts are a fall staple. Here, they’re roasted until crispy and then tossed in a sweet-and-tangy maple glaze. Watch them disappear!
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup fresh apple cider
Pinch kosher salt
1 pound Brussels sprouts
Vegetable oil for frying
Combine maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, apple cider and salt in a medium-sized pot. Reduce by one-quarter over medium heat, stirring constantly. Set aside. Destem Brussels and cut in half, pulling off any outer leaves that are loose. Fry in 350 degree oil for 1 minute or until brown. Season Brussels immediately with a pinch of salt and toss with one tablespoon of reduction for every cup of Brussels.
If you don’t have a fryer, take the raw, cleaned Brussels and toss with oil and salt. Roast at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Brussels should be tender but still have a bite to them. Toss with one tablespoon of reduction for every cup of Brussels while hot.
Makes a pile of sumptuous, tangy-sweet Brussels. How many it serves depends on how restrained your eating companions are, but estimate 2-4 people.