Things are getting really busy! And I know that’s not just the feeling of a person who just got rid of her boot (YEAP!) and knows she has a lot of things to catch up with.
I mean, things are getting truly and significantly busy. On the last days I got to meet new friends through Give Me Flour, virtually and in real life, caught the grand finale of maple season in a Maple Festival and got to eat in a unique and traditional place in my own town for the first time after living here for 2 years and a half. Why didn’t I know about Kevin’s Place before?? I used to drive around it every day while taking my daughter to school and never, ever paid attention to this place. But let’s forget Kevin for a moment, he deserves his own and exclusive post.
A thing that is really on my mind now is the fact that I made a new friend last week and she has gluten and dairy issues in her diet. I felt scared and ashamed at the same time, I have to say. Ashamed because as a professional of the food industry I’ve never paid too much attention to those things; scared because I don’t know exactly how to deal with a pantry that does not have flour and butter.
I could say, in my defense, that a lot of the allergies that occur on the Northern Hemisphere don’t occur with the same frequency in Brazil, what is actually true. But it is not an excuse at all, especially as my philosophy is that food should bring people together instead of separate them.
This whole thing didn’t stop pounding in my head. So, we went to the North Park Village last Sunday in Chicago to enjoy the Maple festival, a little walk through the woods getting people to taste and learn the process of making maple syrup.
But the first thing to catch my attention was an apple tent from Michigan. We stopped by and, another surprise, the guys were selling gluten free chestnut flour, just another sign to affirm I should start carrying about it.
With a basket of apples in one hand and a bag of chestnut flour in the other I started my adventure. Grabbed some maple to use as a sweetener and voila, a gluten free, dairy free apple-maple crisp was on its way.
That’s a very simple recipe but I think it’s exactly what to expect of a crisp topping: crunch, sandy and nutty. As an option for vegetable shortening you could also try to use lard or even butter, but just in case you don’t have any issues with dairy products.
Start with topping. Mix together flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Add shortening and mix until it resembles coarse meal. Add chopped pecans and distribute evenly in a baking sheet without pressing. Let it chill on the freezer for at least 15 minutes.
It can be made in advance too. Keep dough in a fridge up to 1 week or up to 3 months on freezer. Defrosting is NOT necessary.
Prepare filling. Pre heat oven to 370°F. Cut apples in thin slices (half moon shape); add lemon juice, maple, corn starch and vanilla extract.
Fill four ramekins (2.5 inch) with apple mixture.
Cover with a generous layer of topping and bake for 30 minutes or until filling starts to bubble and leek.
Watch out, if topping starts to brown too fast, cover with a loose piece of foil and keep baking until filling leeks out of the ramekins.
What about the Maple Festival?? Oh man, it was GREAT! I know I’m totally suspicious: I tasted maple syrup for the first time here in the United States and suddenly felt in love. Now I try to use it as much as I can. The only reason I don’t drink it by itself is I’m afraid to get sick of maple (if it’s possible to occur at all).
So, understanding a bit of the production process increased even more my respect for maple and for the nature. And my heart just melted away when the ranger told us this year the maple season had been extended due to “warm winter” (at least in Chicago). I felt like the trees were waiting for me to be able to walk freely again and get there.
Temperature is a decisive factor here. The whole story begins on late summer and fall, when trees “stop” growing and start storing starch. When the temperature begins to warms up again, in late winter, starch is transformed in sugar that goes to the sap, the “tree blood”.
Once again the increased temperature acts creating pressure and making the sap to flow up to the branches. It’s like they are saying “Come on, send me some food, spring is coming and I need my leaves back!”
And that’s exactly the perfect time to get some maple, I mean, sap. But it has to be made in a very conscious way. Rangers were explaining it’s almost like to collect blood of a person. People that are too young don’t have the proper weight, or the ones who carry a disease cannot be considered as donors.
Besides that, you have to know how many taps to make by measuring the size of the tree. And I guess these guys could use a precise ruler to do that, but why wasting the opportunity to hug a tree right??
An approximatively 1 1/2 inch taphole is drilled, a spout is taped to help collecting the sap and buckets (or milk gallons!) are used to hold the “water”.
Yes, it’s almost water and does taste almost like water. To give you an idea, 40 gallons of sap are necessary to produce one gallon of maple syrup.
The next step so is to boil, and boil, and boil………….
Now, the questions are “Who discovered that?” and “How did they discover how to make such a delightful thing ?”. I wish I could travel in time, find those people and say THANK YOU!!