Yesterday I decided to make some maple candy, Laura Ingalls-style. This was mostly for my own mysterious reasons, which I choose not to share at this time, thank you.
The silly thing is, my kids don’t even like maple syrup. I don’t know why. I think they’re crazy. Every time we have pancakes, I curse Cute W for having introduced the girls to his Glorious Childhood Favorite, powdered sugar. Oh, evil, worthless sugar! You have seduced my children away from an American tradition, a stalwart supplier of iron, calcium, and manganese. But because my husband managed to grow up to be a healthy grown-up with good teeth, I just have to concede the point. I try to bear it with minimal grumbling.
Even though my kids aren’t enthusiastic about maple syrup, I just couldn’t bring myself to do such a clearly child-friendly project without the children. So first I waited for them to get home from school, and then I realized that my one shining opportunity to do this together was in the remaining fifteen minutes before it was time to go to J’s piano lesson. I sensed that this might become another case of my ambitions outrunning my actual capabilities. But it was now or never, so I got cookin’!
I’d Googled around a bit, and there wasn’t a clear winner on the “most helpful sites” contest. I liked Quaker Hill Farm because of its precise descriptions, fondness for historical accuracy, and numerous photos. Except that then it said: “There is no need to stir, but it must be monitored constantly – literally, don’t take your eyes off the project.” Okay, first of all, that raised my stress level immediately. I just can’t do “constantly” in the kitchen. Second, if you literally did not take your eyes off the project, you would be screaming about the horrendous pain of boiling maple syrup clinging to your corneas. I take this whole literal-figurative thing seriously.
After a careful evaluation of numerous recipes, I decided to wing it. First, I went outside and filled a square pan with lovely, clean snow. Then I poured just enough maple syrup–half a cup, tops–into a pot to cover the bottom. It’s expensive, you know, and I’m cheap.
Since there wasn’t much, it started boiling very quickly. I peered at the pot to assess the quality and texture of the bubbles and foam, per the Quaker Hill directions. I became confused and flustered in the attempt. Plus, my interested children were alternating between pressing too close to me and swiping pieces of snow from the pan (as if they can’t find some on their own?). The whole process made me fearful of a Horrible Burning Incident.
After boiling for five or six minutes, the maple syrup seemed ready. I poured it into the pan.
And it was at about this point when true panic sent in, because my children wanted some candy immediately, and I’d run out of places to pour the rest of the maple syrup (which now seemed to be an extraordinarily large quantitiy). Oh, and I realized that we should have already been out the door, heading to piano.
Both girls tried and declared it “too sweet”. I expected this from M, but J is the queen of the piled-on-powdered-sugar-pancake, so it wasn’t justified at all. I thought it was super-tasty. It was solid but still flexible and chewy, similar to Cute W’s caramel when it’s still warm, but with more maple goodness, of course.
The children, put off by my increasing stress level, fled the kitchen. Meanwhile, I’d opened my little-used side door and started frantically grooming the snow of miscellaneous natural debris with one hand while holding the steaming-hot pot in the other. I tossed the remaining syrup directly onto the snow outside, all while shouting for J to please get her coat and boots on! Right now please!
After a quick piano drop-off, I returned to the kitchen and found myself eating pretty much every last piece of the maple candy myself. I couldn’t help it. It was so tasty. Half an hour later, whatever remained had melted back into liquid form. I have no idea whether this was because of my slipshod candy-making techniques or because that’s how it would always happen, except that in every other case known to humanity, children flock to and eat the maple deliciousness.
Within an hour, I was finding maple glop on every possible surface of my kitchen and suffering from a profound sugar rush and an upset stomach. We won’t be making maple candy again.
But you might have normal children, and you’re probably more competent than I am. If you try making maple candy, err on the side of having too much snow set aside ahead of time, and explain to your children about the extreme danger of boiling syrup and exactly when they’ll be permitted to taste ahead of time. And give yourself at least, say, 25 minutes. The finished candy was beautiful as well as tasty, but I was too busy freaking out at the time to document it for you.