Sunday, March 8, 2015

Starting Now

Our local food year starts, appropriately enough, with the first upwellings of sap from the maples.  Cold and clear, only barely sweet, maple sap straight from the tree carries the flavor of a small miracle.  Through it we tap in—literally and figuratively—to a perennial process that encapsulates what it means to live and eat seasonally like nothing else.  In the fall the trees sent all their resources down into their roots, to safeguard them through the long dormant season.  As days grow longer to the equinox’s tipping point, and the thaw-freeze cycle starts and continues, the trees call up that liquid food—it’s used to make leaves that enable to trees to utilize the sun’s energy, to make more leaves, to make seeds that make more trees, all of it cyclical, like the seasons, endless rise and fall and rise again.

We intercept the sap as it travels—simple enough, drill a little hole, stick in a tap, or spile, hang a bucket or a bag, collect sap, and when you have a quantity cook it down until most of the water is gone, all the sweetness remains.  Homemade maple syrup has qualities of terroir (the French term most often applied to wine), I believe; especially when the syrup is infused with traces of smoke from a fire stoked with wood from the same hillside where the maple trees grow.  All maple syrup is good; maple syrup from your own trees is both good and meaningful, and deeply satisfying.

I’ve been pretty slackardly in keeping up Trout Caviar for the last couple of years.  This year I’m going to make an effort to get back on top of it and document a year in local food from where we sit, at Bide-A-While just down the road from Bide-A-Wee in northern Dunn County, township of Wilson just southeast of Ridgeland, Wisconsin.  Starting now.  I tapped three maple trees today; the sap had not yet started to run.  But conditions over the next week and more look perfect--highs near 50, lows in the 20s.  It will be flowing very soon.

Lily found a really nice stick.  So awesome.


Mary made tartlets today, very local in nature, and appropriate to the early spring theme.  She wanted to test the recipe for the Maple Madness Cook-Off that's part of the Hungry Turtle Weekend program  of classes and cooking demos happening in Amery next weekend, March 13-14.  The tarts use maple syrup, dried apples from our trees, Wisconsin hickory nuts, dried cranberries.

The original recipe was for something called Ecclefechan tarts—it came along with a knitting pattern Mary bought a while back, Ecclefechan being a town in Scotland.  We’ve changed it up enough to make it our own.  We made these for a dinner/class at the Palate kitchen store in Stockholm, WI last spring, and came up with a fancy little accompaniment, the chevre maple cream, as below.  The tartness of the chevre works nicely against the sweetness of the tarts, but regular whipped cream would be great, too.  Or just eat them plain, with a cup o' tea.

Hickory Nut & Maple Tart(let)s with Dried Fruit
Makes 8 four-inch tarts or 24 tartlets

200 grams (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
120 grams (1 stick; or 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
Water if needed (Mary has found that water is usually needed, up to 1/4 cup; start adding 1 tablespoon at a time)

Cut the butter into ½-inch pieces and rub it into the flour until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugars and the salt, mixing well. Stir in the egg yolk and mix well. If the mixture is crumbly, add cold water a tablespoon at a time until you can form a dough that holds together. Knead very briefly, just so all the ingredients are well combined. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
50 grams (3 tablespoons) maple syrup
100 grams (7 tablespoons; or a stick minus 1 tablespoon) butter
1 egg
50 grams (1/2 cup) ground almonds
50 grams (1/2 cup) coarsely chopped hickory nuts (or substitute walnuts, pecans, or almonds)
30 grams (1/2 cup, packed) dried apples, chopped
60 grams (generous ½ cup) dried cranberries
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine the sugar, salt, syrup, and butter in a small saucepan, and place on low heat until the butter melts. Add the fruits and nuts and let this mixture cool for several minutes, then mix in the egg.

Roll the pastry out into a layer about 1/6-inch thick. Cut rounds appropriate to the pans you're using--mini tart pans, muffin tins, etc. Fit the pastry rounds into the pans, fill 1/2 full.

Bake at 375 until the pastry is golden brown and the filling brown and nicely puffed up. Depending on the the size of the tarts, this will take 25 to 30 minutes. Check after 15 minutes, then every 5 minutes until they're done.  Serve with chevre maple cream, plain whipped cream, a slice of sharp aged gouda or cheddar, or just a cup of tea.

Chevre Maple Cream

2 oz fresh chèvre, at room temperature
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened whipped cream

Combine the chèvre and syrup, and mixing with a fork until well blended. Fold in the whipped cream. Refrigerate until ready to use.


Elsah said...

Chef- I certainly hope one or two of those tasty treats makes it over to South Street soon! Also, I love reading your stuff Brett, great job.

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