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Sugar on Snow

By Carrie Lamont (carrielamontFebruary 3, 2011

The first serious snowfall of the year in New England always brought my mother boiling up a batch of maple syrup, just as in Laura Ingalls Wilder's day. Luckily for us, we didn't have to start with the maple tree. We just needed the snow and the jug of maple syrup!

Gardening picture
(Editor's Note:  This article was originally published on January 19, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
If you have pure 100% maple syrup (nobody's Aunt imitation pancake topping will work for this) and fresh clean snow (or old clean snow, the operative word here is clean) then you can boil up a batch of 'sugar on snow', just exactly as they did in Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the book, the Wisconsin settlers could only spare enough syrup for this very sweet treat on an exceptionally good year for maple sugaring. These days, with sugar jumping into the grocery cart in every conceivable form and added to nearly everything, sugar is not so hard to come by; many of us try to avoid it, in fact.

But kids need to learn how to handle sugar responsibly, that is, how to gorge on wholesome, pure, natural, maple syrup cooked at home. You need at least one child to enjoy this concoction, preferably more. There are no video games or movies about this. Read Little House in the Big Woods to your children. In fact, reading to kids is always a good thing.

To start with you do need pure maple syrup. We can do this whole operation with no candy thermometer, so don't rush out and buy one. If you happen to have one, why, get it out and dust it off! At the right moment, you (or more properly, your little person) will need plates and bowls packed full of snow, clean snow. You also will need a clean saucepan with a much larger capacity than you think you need, and a spoon.

ImageNow that we have all our supplies gathered (snow waiting outside, saucepan, spoon, 100% maple syrup and anxious small child), let's get to work. The amount of maple syrup you use should roughly correspond to how much you would let this child drink straight out of the bottle. No pancakes, no waffles, just straight syrup. Maybe a quarter of a cup per person? It depends on the rules in your family. You need more than enough to cover the bottom of the pan; otherwise it might scorch. Best would be 1 - 2 inches deep on the bottom of the pan, but as you'll see, that will make a lot of sugar on snow.

Next problem: where to put the anxious child? Maybe on a stool near the stove where he or she is out of the way but can watch the goings-on? You do not want an excited youngster pulling at you while you're trying to keep hot syrup from boiling over!Image

Now to begin. Start by heating the syrup slowly over medium heat until the edges start to bubble, or simmer. Cook it like this for maybe 10 or 15 minutes. In the picture on the right, the dark spot on the left is starting to get too hot. Don't let it get this hot! This pan was not large enough for the amount of syrup, so I had to pour some off.

ImageAfter it has been simmering for a while (250 degrees, or the hard ball stage, for candy makers, otherwise don't worry about it) it should start to look and smell a little different. Now STOP cooking.

Send the children out to fetch their pre-packed bowls of snow. Using a spoon, drop small dribbles of hot syrup onto the snow. If the hot syrup just dissolves in the snow, making a maple slush, cook the syrup a few minutes longer. You can attempt to do initials or make shapes.Image ImageWe always try. and we fail, but we always try again next time. On the top, I am trying to make a letter "D".
Now comes the most important part of all: eating! First of all, warn your young participants not to touch their oddly shaped treats right away; remember, 250 degrees is quite a lot hotter than boiling, which is extremely hot. We don't want anyone to burn their little (or big) fingers. After the sticky-fest is over, everyone could probably use a warm bath.

Maple syrup can only be gotten from sugar maples for a few weeks early in spring (or late in winter) when the days are above freezing (so the sap can flow in the tree) but the nights are below freezing (so sugar is formed to be stored). In the really rural parts of New England and southern Canada, where there is snow cover for months, finding snow while there is fresh syrup is not a problem.

Where I grew up near Boston, however, it didn't snow every year, and if it did, the snow was usually dirty soon after it fell. My mother was right to be excited about the snow - she grew up in the South, and had only read about sugar on snow. We always had maple syrup on hand, and when - and if - it snowed, we would run out and fill our bowls, for we knew our mother would be boiling up the syrup!

And for home— or love— or any kind of sickness, ‘tis the thing.

Take in allopathic doses and repeat it every Spring.

Until everyone you meet, if at home or on the street,

Will have half a mind to bite you for you look so very sweet.*


*from an old Vermont song.



  About Carrie Lamont  
Carrie LamontCarrie clicks on every link. She has been married for fourteen delightful years and has two beautiful daughters who are nearly grown-ups. Her husband retired in October (from America's favorite airline) with enough travel benefits to fly Carrie nearly anywhere she wants to go. She lived in Texas for 2012-2014, but has just moved back to New England where she feels most at home. Carrie has a masters degree in Music, and hums to herself as she gardens. Follow her on Google.

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