I’m not gonna lie to you: these are lean times for lovers of local food. During the dark months between October’s harvest frenzy and the darling buds of May, I thaw those Ziploc bags of summer corn, gnaw ever-smaller stored carrots, cash in my turkey-stock options, and channel Shakespeare’s Richard III. Now is the winter of my discontent.
But there’s one sweet salvation, one glorious reason for locavores to love what January means for our meals: like its prelude, Christmas, maple syrup comes but once a year. In a flurry of activity amid snow flurries upstate, sugarmakers (as they’re called) get to work in the woods as soon as their New Year’s hangovers fade, drilling holes in the trunks of wild sugar maples, hammering in metal taps, and hang- ing buckets to collect the sap. When night temperatures are below freezing and daytime highs above 50, the tree converts starch stored in its roots into sugary sap, which runs up to the branches, or in this case, into the lucky waiting bucket. In its raw state the sap looks and tastes like water, but it’s collected daily and boiled down to one fortieth its volume, transformed into the sticky stuff without which breakfast wouldn’t be worth waking for. When conditions are right, sugarmakers work round the clock to keep up with production and seal the precious finished product into jars for year-round sale. Sure, artificially colored and flavored corn syrup with baloney names like “Vermont syrup” and “pancake syrup” are cheaper, but they taste cheaper, too. On pancakes, yogurt, pound cake, ice cream, and sometimes just by the spoonful, I accept no substitutions.
I said I was going to be honest. There’s another reason I love maple syrup: ego. On visits to the San Francisco farmers market, in the face of almonds, olives, citrus, and year-round field arugula, I sprout a complex inferiority complex, bitter Greenmarket envy. But there’s one food advantage that our Northeastern homeland has over California, and the rest of the earth. You guessed it. Winter, welcome back.
Bok Choi & Tat Soi
MEAT AND SEAFOOD
Black Sea Bass
Game – Pheasant, Woodcock, Rabbit & Venison
Milk & Cheese
I call my boyfriend Honeypie and developed this recipe for him. The filling is wonderfully simple and, despite what you’d think, not too sweet. It’s great in winter when peaches are long gone, strawberries are still months away, and we’re all suffering apple fatigue. I entered this pie in a contest judged by Martha Stewart, won third place, and had the pleasure of preparing this pie with her live on The Martha Show!
1 pie crust, pricked with a fork
1 c. honey
3 T. unsalted butter
1 t. vanilla extract
A few grates of nutmeg
Warm honey and butter in a saucepan, so honey becomes runny and butter melts. Set aside to cool. In a bowl, thoroughly whisk eggs, vanilla and nutmeg until completely combined. When honey-butter mixture is cooled but still liquid, whisk into egg mixture. Pour into prepared crust and bake at 325° until center is set, about 45 minutes.
BROWN-BUTTER POTATO CROQUETTES
by Chef Charlie Kiely at The Grocery
We typically serve this with a shot of seasonal soup.
2 russet potatoes
1 stick unsalted butter
1⁄2 c. flour
1⁄2 c. bread crumbs
Canola or soy oil for frying Salt and pepper, to taste
Peel the potatoes and steam until fork tender. Press through a ricer.
In a skillet over low heat, brown the butter until the milk solids are brown and nutty, but not burned, about 10 minutes.
Combine the potato and brown butter, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Form into 1” balls, and dredge in flour, egg and bread crumbs.
In a pot, heat 2” of oil to 375°. Fry the croquettes until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Serve hot.
Celery is one of my favorite vegetables, and in winter I almost subsist on its earthy cousin, celeriac, fortified with luscious dairy.
3 lbs. celery root
3 T. unsalted butter
1⁄2 c. heavy cream
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Peel the celery roots with a knife and cut into 1” cubes. Boil in salted water until tender, about 20 minutes. Strain. You can add some of the liquid to the puree to thin it to desired consistency. Mash with the butter and cream, and season with salt and pepper. Serves 4.
FRENCH TOAST “IN THE RAW”
by Tom Kearney, The Farm on Adderley
The Farm on Adderley loves maple syrup and maple sugar from upstate New York. The sweet stuff glazes their pan-seared Long Island duck breast and sweetens the curry mayo that comes with their fries. For brunch they serve sides of thick-sliced brioche toast with goat butter and maple sugar. Here’s the spoken-verse-style recipe:
For something ultra simple and delicious, go to a Polish or Ukranian bakery and buy a loaf of challah or, if you’re near a good French bakery, a loaf of brioche. Shave some very good unsalted butter or, if possible, goat butter. Slice the bread thick while still warm or heat just enough to make warm and lay the shaved butter on top. Sprinkle maple sugar and just a pinch of salt over the butter. The buttery richness of the bread together with the crunchy salt and maple sugar salt and buttery richness of challah/brioche is key. It’s like French toast in the raw.