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Pancakes would lose their fan base, baked beans would not be taken seriously by New England cooks and sugar on snow would melt into oblivion if there weren’t any maple syrup.

There are many North American Indian legends surrounding how the first sap of maple trees was discovered. One legend tells us that Nokomis, the earth mother goddess, was the first to tap maple trees to obtain maple syrup. But her skeptical grandson Manabush was fearful that if people knew how to obtain such an easy source of sugar, they would become lazy. So he filled the maple trees with water, diluting the sugar. From that time on, maple syrup gatherers have had to cut wood, build fi res and boil down the maple water in order to obtain the syrup.

Be that as it may, where would New England cooking be without this smooth and sweet-tasting thick liquid?

Each year, the New Hampshire maple industry produces close to ninety thousand gallons of maple syrup. The maple-sugaring season in New Hampshire runs from mid-February to mid- April, and Mother Nature must cooperate with freezing nights and warm days to ensure the sap will run. It takes approximately forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup!

Tapping the trees is done today much as it was many years ago; the goal is to remove as much of the water as possible to obtain the right density of sap. Trees are tapped with the classic bucket and spout method with an accompanying pipeline, or with the plastic tubing method. In the fi rst method, a small hole is drilled into the tree, a spout tapped into the hole and a bucket placed on a hook with a cover to keep debris out. In the second method, a hole is drilled and a spout is attached directly to the tubing running from tree to tree, and the sap is directed downward through the tubing into a holding tank at the end of the pipeline.

Maple syrup is divided into two grades, A and B. Grade A is lighter in color and less intense in flavor, while Grade B is darker and more intense in flavor. In addition to its many uses in cooking and baking, maple syrup has some health benefits—it is lower in calories than sugar, and contains healthy doses of zinc and manganese, according to the North American Maple Syrup Council’s Maple Syrup Digest. Studies cited by the nonprofit George Mateljan Foundation’s World’s Healthiest Foods Web site ( whfoods. com) have shown that the zinc in maple syrup is an antioxidant, can protect your heart and decrease the progression of atherosclerosis.

Even if you can’t make it to the sugarhouse this winter and early spring to watch the process of making syrup, you can still find an array of local maple syrups in your grocery store. And remember to use it for more than just a topping on your pancakes or French toast. Try it in the recipes here and welcome the coming of spring.

Mary Ann Esposito’s Recipes with Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup-Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
Serves 8

Maple syrup-roasted carrots and parsnips are so good that kids will eat them without a struggle. Serve them along side pork, chicken or beef.

-6 medium size carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
-6 medium size parsnips, trimmed, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
-11/2 teaspoons salt
-1/3 cup maple syrup
-2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. toss the carrots and parsnips in a large bowl with the olive oil and salt. Place on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer (use two sheets if necessary) and bake for 15 minutes.

2. Heat the maple syrup in a small saucepan over low heat; add the thyme. turn off the heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

3. Pour the maple syrup over the vegetables and brush with a pastry brush. Continue roasting the vegetables, turning occasionally until a knife is easily inserted and the vegetables look roasted. Serve hot.

Mary Ann Esposito’s Recipes with Maple Syrup

Oven-Baked, Maple-Glazed Pork Chops
Serves 4

Maple syrup gives these oven-baked pork chops with apples just the right kiss of sweetness without overdoing it. Bone-in chops give better flavor and keep the meat moist.

-2 teaspoons fine sea salt
-1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
-2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
-4 loin cut, bone-in pork chops, cut ¾-inch thick
-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
-1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
-1 cup thinly sliced fennel, white bulb only
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-3 tablespoons maple syrup, divided
-3 medium size Cortland apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine the salt, pepper and rosemary in a small bowl. Wipe the chops dry with paper towels and rub them on both sides with the salt mixture. Set aside.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, ovenproof skillet or casserole-type dish.

3. Add the onion and fennel, and cook over medium heat until the mixture softens. Stir in the garlic and continue cooking until the mixture is fragrant. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. Set aside.

4. Add the remaining oil to the skillet and brown the chops well on both sides over medium-high heat. Tuck in the apples around the chops and return the onion mixture to the pan, scattering it on top of the chops and apple slices.

5. Drizzle the remaining maple syrup over the chops. Cover the pan and bake for 25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers between 155°F and 160°F. Remove the cover during the last 5 minutes of baking.

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