The Recipe

Maple season continues to chug along.  It’s been nice to have a few visitors.  You’re all welcome – bring your boots!

It’s also been really swell to have so many orders coming in for maple.  We’re actually in the middle of setting up a fairly fancy bottling system here, so we don’t have any of our current crop packaged for sale at this time.  So please bear with us – the electrician is coming Friday!  We’ve been very happy with the product this season and look forward to sharing it with you.

I’m really encouraged that people notice and appreciate the difference that buying maple direct from producers makes to their cuisine.  The generic maple syrup you find in grocery stores is certainly better than the corn syrup stuff, but because it’s coming out of storage and blended from many lots, it tends to lack the character that you get by going direct to the source.

This is one of those examples where I’m reminded that so many of you are low key gourmands and have a rather sophisticated appreciation for the ingredients that you cook with.   “Oh yeah, I forgot our customers are downright epicureans….”  Forgive me, I largely cook for the 5 and under crowd: who consume maple syrup like a fiends – not a refined culinary delicacy!

So, as much as I find maple fascinating in terms of ecology, farming, history, commerce and culture – it’s important to keep in mind the reason the largest robbery in Canadian history was of maple syrup of all things, is ultimately because it is just so damn special and delicious.  There are very few foods it doesn’t go well with, and it finds its way into much of my cooking in both large and small amounts.

Now, there is one, and only one, thing that I feel maple does not contribute to: mainly fruit dishes/desserts where the maple-y-ness of the syrup takes away from flavours of the ripe fruits, and refined white sugar is the appropriate strategy if additional sweetness is required.

Otherwise, yeah, coffee, ice cream, oatmeal, stir frys, barbeque sauces, maple is pretty much at home anywhere, don’t be shy!   My favourite way to use maple though, is in ways that seem entirely counterintuitive and just plain weird.  I have a great example:

When I wimped out on Ag college, and attempted to go to university (made it one semester), I found myself holding a prestigious position in the dish pit at Brewbakers restaurant in Fredericton, New Brunswick.  As is customary, you got a meal with your shift, and while it did not include the lobster or prime rib, you could get any pasta you wanted.  They had this dish called Maple Curry Chicken and I ate it almost every day – it was really really good, and I’d never had anything like it.  It was a very maple-y, rich, flavourful penne dish and I even learned to make it when I graduated from Hobart duty.  Then I moved away and I never thought about it again.

Fast forward twenty years and I got a hankering for that Maple Chicken Curry.  I’d forgotten how it was made so I searched it online thinking it might be a “thing”.  Well, it turns out the only place it is a “thing” was in Fredericton, where not only is Brewbakers still open, but they are still serving this dish.   Some local blogger had recently fallen in love with it, and somehow successfully managed to perfectly reverse engineer it in her kitchen at home. 

And I mean perfect because she absolutely nailed it – it was like a time machine (except I didn’t lose fifty pounds, have a fuzzy moustache or grow my hair back).  It’s a really great recipe, and when I went back for a refresher the other night, I saw that the recipe has gained some company online, with larger cooking sites like AllRecipes having versions of it (all posted since Lauren published her version).

Prior to this winter of domesticity, I have always been a “no recipes” cook: just using what was on hand, and with whatever techniques I’d picked up over the years from friends and acquaintances.  My mother-in-law thinks I’m an amazing cook (I’m not), but when she asks me in awe where I learned to do that, invariably it is something some hippie showed me while cooking over a Coleman or a woodstove in some sort of yurt or cabin.  And so, in my ongoing efforts to Not Be A Weirdo, I finally submitted myself to the discipline of recipes.

It had always perplexed me why, after having the printing press around for almost 600 years, why did anyone still need to write more cookbooks?  Why does anyone continue to “develop recipes”?  Is this not terribly redundant?  Have we not figured this stuff out?  How much more of this could we possibly need???

Well, I’m a big fan of The Recipe now, and this young lady’s perfect interpretation of the curry dish is a great example of why we need to keep writing this stuff down.

Other than putting tasty food in my mouth, what I really like about recipes is how they’re a perfect encapsulation of the true purpose, value and power of the written word:

1) To define and give instruction
2) To transmit information across time and space
3) To ultimately spur human activity and understanding.  

Although most writing contains at least one of these elements, recipes are one of the few forms that nail all three.

So when you go out of your way to follow a recipe, you’re actually saying “I want to understand better how to interact with physical reality”.  Now maybe you’re just hungry, but whether you realize it or not, you are demonstrating an infinitely greater curiosity and engagement with creation than the easy choice to grab a frozen pizza.

Speaking of frozen pizza, a brief aside: I have been stalking grocery stores this winter, and I’m sorry but I had heretofore never noticed what a juggernaut item these things are.   There’s like 50 feet of freezers for them in some of the bigger stores!!!  Cheap too!  A great example of industrialization and economies of scale – most of them are imported.  How many people live off of them?  What percentage of calories in our society are consumed in the form of frozen pizza? It’s probably obvious to you, but I honestly had no idea that frozen pizza had become the staff of life for postmodern civilization.

All that being said, if you’re reading recipes and seeking out good ingredients I have to assume you’re doing so because it’s gratifying and it makes sense.  Cooking from scratch, which of course has been the norm for all of human history, is now an affront to the efficiencies of a globalized world and something we need to deliberately do, and compared to picking up a frozen pizza it’s often not even cheaper – but it’s worth it.  Where so much is beyond our control, we can at least reign over our counter and stove and make something beautiful for the ones we love. 

So why don’t you make that Maple Curry Chicken?  It’s a real crowd pleaser – of course it is, it’s got a cup of heavy cream and half a cup of syrup!  Good cooking isn’t all that complicated.

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