There is no shortage of historic New England maple syrup recipes. Maple syrup ranks with cranberries as a traditional New England foodstuff. Native Americans first taught the English colonists how to tap maple trees and concentrate the sap into syrup, either by heating it or letting it freeze and then skimming off the layer of ice. The indigenous people celebrated the Sugar Moon – the first full moon of spring – with a Maple Dance.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, maple sugar was used as a source of sugar, as it was cheaper than the cane sugar imported from the West Indies. Making maple sugar was a community affair, as it was so labor intensive. The popularity of sugaring parties grew, with partygoers eating sugar on snow with donuts and dill pickles.
During the Civil War, maple syrup and maple sugar were used because cane sugar and molasses were produced by Southern slaves. After the Civil War, cane sugar became the dominant sweetener and maple producers focused on promoting maple syrup.
British food writer Delia Bacon described maple syrup ‘as a unique ingredient, smooth- and silky-textured, with a sweet, distinctive flavour – hints of caramel with overtones of toffee will not do – and a rare colour, amber set alight. Maple flavour is, well, maple flavour, uniquely different from any other.’
The sugar shacks that still dot northern New England are popular springtime destinations. For those who can’t resist taking home a gallon or two of the sweet stuff, here are eight traditional New England recipes that use maple syrup and sugar. They include an 1805 recipe for maple beer, some traditional Wampanoag recipes and Fannie Farmer’s original recipe for maple sugar. We also tell you how to make sugar on snow, Boston baked beans and Indian pudding. Enjoy!
Wampanoag Corn Cakes
Corn cakes were a staple of the Wampanoag diet. The Wampanoag would put these in their pouches when making long journeys. They taught the colonists how to plant corn and make them. The colonists would call them jonnycakes.
- I cup milk
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Butter or vegetable spray
- Maple syrup
Mix the egg and milk together. Add salt, sugar and cornmeal. Stir into a thin batter. Coat a frying pan with butter or vegetable spray and heat on medium high. When the pan is hot, drop spoonfuls of batter onto it. When the edges start to dry and bubbles appear, flip the corn cakes over and cook them on the other side until golden brown. Remove from pan and pour maple syrup over them. Makes about 20.
Nassaump, or wassaump, is a traditional Wampanoag food adapted from a Plimoth Plantation recipe. Made from dried corn, local berries and nuts, it is boiled in water until it thickens. Nassaump is is similar to a porridge or oatmeal. The Wampanoags taught the Pilgrims how to make it; the Pilgrims found it ‘exceeding wholesome for the English bodies.’
- 1½ cup cornmeal
- 1 cup berries (blueberries, strawberries or raspberries, or a combination)
- ½ cup crushed walnuts, hazelnuts or sunflower seeds or a combination of all three
- 1 quart water
- Maple syrup
Combine the cornmeal, berries, crushed nuts and maple syrup in a pot of water. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
The English colonists liked hasty pudding, made by boiling wheat flour in water or milk until it thickened into porridge. Wheat flour was scarce in North America, settlers used cornmeal, which they called “Indian flour.” They boiled it into a mush pudding and flavored it with maple syrup. Eventually they added more flavors, with molasses, butter, cinnamon, ginger, eggs and raisins or nuts. Recipes for Indian pudding began appearing in late 18th century cookbooks. Here’s one adapted from Yankee Magazine.
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for baking dish
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 300° and butter a 1-1/2-quart baking dish. Bring milk to a simmer in a double boiler over high heat. Whisk the cornmeal into the milk, and continue to cook, whisking continuously, for 15 minutes.
Slowly add molasses, then remove from heat. Add maple syrup and the rest of the ingredients. Stir until smooth.
Pour mixture into the baking dish, and bake until the pudding is set and the top is browned, about 2 hours. Serve hot or cold and top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Baked Beans with Maple Syrup
Baked beans originated with Native Americans. They combined navy beans, bear fat, venison and maple syrup in deerskin or an earthenware pot and cooked it for a long time in a pit, or beanhole, lined with hot stones. The colonists adapted the dish with salt pork and molasses, plentiful because New England produced rum from it. Baked beans were ideal for the Puritans, who forbade cooking on Sunday. They could have them for Saturday night supper and Sunday breakfast, still warm. Boston became famous for its baked beans, which is why it’s still called Beantown.
This recipe adds maple syrup to traditional, slow-cooked baked beans. It’s adapted from The Official Vermont Maple Cookbook, published by the Vermont Maple Foundation.
- 2 lbs. dried beans (yellow eye, navy, kidney, pinto or Great Northern)
- 1/2 lb. salt pork
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 onion
- 1-1/2 cups maple syrup
Wash and pick over beans. Cover with cold water, add soda and soak overnight. In the morning, rinse beans and boil gently in fresh water until skins wrinkle. Drain bean water, but don’t throw it away. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place onion, peeled, in the bottom of a bean pot or casserole. Add remaining ingredients. Score pork and place on top of beans. Pour in bean water just to cover. Bake, covered, for about 8 hours. Check from time to time, adding bean water as needed. For the last hour, cook uncovered to brown top.
Sugar on Snow
Sugar on snow is a northern New England tradition dating to the time when the whole community pitched in to make syrup. Sugaring parties would be held during maple syrup season in which a taffy-like candy was made by pouring hot maple syrup onto packed snow. Sugar on snow should always be accompanied by plain donuts and sour pickles, which bring out the maple-y sweetness of the candy.
Ingredients and Equipment
- Fancy Grade or Grade A medium amber syrup, about 1/4 cup per person
- Sour pickles
- Forks or spoons
- Heat-proof pitcher
- Candy thermometer
- Shallow pans or dishes
- Heavy cooking pot
Smear butter on the rim of a heavy cooking pot and heat the syrup slowly to 232 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour into heatproof pitcher and drizzle over snow packed into shallow pans to form a thin coating. Wind the taffy onto forks for eating, taking small bites of pickle and donut between bites of the candy.
Maple Sugar Candy
Fannie Merritt Farmer published this recipe in the first edition of her Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. The cookbook had several dozen recipes that called for maple sugar and maple syrup.
- 1 lb. soft maple sugar
- ¾ cup thin cream
- ¼ cup boiling water
- 2/3 cup English walnut or pecan meat cut in pieces
Break sugar into pieces; put into a pot with cream and water. Bring to boiling point, and boil until a soft ball is formed when tried in cold water. Remove from fire, beat until creamy, add nutmeat and pour into a buttered tin. Cool slightly, and mark in squares.
Crisp Edged Maple Oatmeal Cookies
Cookies were introduced to the North American colonies in the 1600s. The English colonists called them ‘small cakes,’ ‘seed biscuits’ or ‘tea cakes.’ They were also called by their names, such as ‘macaroon’ or ‘jumble,’ a spiced butter cookie. It was the Dutch in New York who coined the term ‘koekjes,’ a diminutive of ‘koek,’ or ‘cake,’ which was Anglicized to ‘cookie.’ After the American Revolution, visitors to New York – the nation’s first capital – became familiar with the term. The first time the word ‘cookie’ appeared in print was 1703.
Here is a recipe for maple oatmeal cookies, adapted from the Maine Maple Producers Association.
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 egg
- 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- Pinch of allspice
- 1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift or thoroughly stir together the flour, salt, soda and allspice. Cream the butter, then beat in the syrup, lemon zest and egg. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the oatmeal. Drop by teaspoons on a lightly buttered baking sheet. Spread flat with a knife blade. Bake for about 10 minutes until the edges are well browned, then cool on wire racks. Centers will remain slightly cakey, edges will crisp as they cool. Makes about 3 dozen.
Beer has been a staple beverage in New England since the Pilgrims arrived with it on the Mayflower. Here, a weekly newspaper called The Balance, and Columbian repository in Columbia, N.Y., offers a recipe for maple beer in its 1805 Volume IV.
According to the Balance, “It makes a most delicious and wholesome drink.”
- 4 gallons water
- 1 quart maple molasses (recipe follows)
- Malt or bran (optional)
- 1 tablespoon essence of spruce
To every 4 gallons of water (while boiling), add a quart of maple molasses. When the liquor is cooled to blood heat, put in as much yeast as is necessary to foment. Malt or bran may be added to this beer, when agreeable. If a tablespoonful of the essence of spruce is added to the above quantities of water and molasses, it makes a most delicious and wholesome drink.
This may be made in three ways: First, from the thick syrup obtained by boiling after it is strained for granulation. Secondly, From the drainings of the sugar. Thirdly, From the last drainings of the tree (which will not granulate) reduced by evaporation to the consistency of molasses.