Farmers' Market Share: Real Maple Syrup and Cranberry Sauce


  • Alissa Nelson
My life philosophy? Always use real maple syrup.


What I mean is this: Don't put artificial, industrial food products into your body. Rather, eat real food whenever possible. It will taste better, and you will feel better. It builds community and supports small businesses.

Supermarket maple syrup conjures plastic bottles molded into the shape of a mammy. History of latent racism aside, the product inside is just plain gross, usually a combination of high-fructose corn syrup, sugar and citric acid with some flavoring. Yes, it's thicker than regular maple syrup -- thanks to the addition of cellulose gum.

Maple syrup? It's sugar maple sap tapped from living trees and boiled down to a reduction. Then, it goes into a bottle. That's it. When I was growing up, my parents would visit a family who lived a couple of miles down the street and tapped the trees on their property. That was our syrup source.

There aren't really maple farms, per se, but a network of producers around New England. Sugaring time means long days of boiling the sap down, which usually translates into many different people contributing and helping out. That -- and supporting small farmers -- is what I mean by building community.

When I moved to St. Louis, I had the sad realization that maple syrup costs way more here and is probably shipped in from the Northeast. But then I discovered Marble Creek Sugar Leaf. It's not quite the maple syrup to which you're accustomed. Joe and Sandy Gorse make a syrup that's actually more intense, floral and mapley than Grade B (my favorite) syrup. Definitely give them a call and see if you can get a jar.

Aw, shit, Thanksgiving always sneaks up on me.

Here is another philosophy: You never need to buy cranberry sauce again. Fine, you might get a satisfying SCHLORP! as it comes out of the can, but making your own cranberry sauce is one of the fastest and easiest ways to impress the family. You can customize, too! I put variations at the end.

I think my mother might have gotten this out of a Gourmet or Bon Appétit Thanksgiving issue at least fifteen years ago, but I have no idea.

  • Alissa Nelson
Cranberry Sauce
12 oz. bag cranberries
1 1/4 cup maple syrup
1. Rinse and pick over the cranberries. Discard any squishy ones.

2. Combine maple syrup and cranberries in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, and cook until the cranberries burst, about 5-7 minutes. (This will be a few minutes longer if you use frozen berries, but I don't suggest going that route anyway, because your cranberries will be less likely to burst.)

Variations: Add the zest from one orange prior to cooking. Or a teaspoon of minced ginger. You might want to try whole cloves that you can then fish out at the end.

Alissa Nelson is a graduate student and compulsive buyer of cookbooks. She enjoys scouring seed catalogs and thrift stores alike. Every Wednesday she seeks the bounty of local farmers' markets -- and then cooks it.

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