North and South: Massachusetts Maple Syrup and Georgia Cornmeal Pancakes Saturday, Mar 30 2013 

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Take a look at that glorious view up in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. Spring seems nearly finished in Atlanta, but it’s still winter in much of the country. New England has had a long, powerful winter. This past week I paid a quick visit up North and was able to experience something I’ve wanted to do my entire food-obsessed life: visit a maple syrup “sugar shack” during production.

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Through the snowy woods we drove up a winding, muddy road to the Davenport Maple Farm and Restaurant. As we made our way up the incline I felt excited like a kid when I saw the tin buckets hanging on the shaggy silver bark of the towering maple trees. Lisa chuckled and smiled at me when I exclaimed, “Look at the buckets! Look at the buckets!” Well, it’s been a desire for along while and, if you think about it, I am more used to cane syrup and gnats in South Georgia. Massachusetts maple trees and March snow are pretty foreign to my world.

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We arrived at Davenport’s to see billowing clouds of white steam blowing against the bright blue sky. I opened the car door and a sweet, positively indescribable mouth-watering aroma permeated the cold, wet air. On the weekends during the season the Davenports serve breakfast. Sadly, our visit was during the week and there were no pancakes, but I was able to taste freshly made maple syrup right out of the cooker. I smiled ear to ear as I sipped the hot syrup out of the warm cup and gazed around the room.

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Between taking delicious sips of the amber, piping hot syrup I listened as Mrs. Davenport kindly explained the process of making syrup. The Davenports have been making syrup on their farm for 100 years. The processing room was filled with accoutrements from the past, taps, sugar molds for making candy, and buckets of various ages and description.

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Maple Syrup begins as sap in a maple tree. The sap is harvested in the spring when temperatures rise into the 40s during the day and cool off into the 20s at night. Trees are tapped using a drill to make a small hole. If conditions are right, the sap drips out into a bucket and is hand-collected. More modern methods involve a series of tubes that moves the sap from multiple trees to a holding tank. The sap is pumped into an evaporator that cooks off the water, leaving just the natural sugar. Astonishingly, it takes 40 quarts of sap to produce 1 quart of maple syrup.

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Maple syrup is graded by color and flavor. Light Amber or Fancy Grade has a milder maple taste and is made early in the season when the weather is cold and brisk. This syrup is considered best for maple candy. Grade A or Medium Amber is also a fine table syrup and is the most popular for eating. This syrup is made after the weather begins to warm, about mid-season. Grade B is for cooking and is made late in the season. It’s darker and stronger in flavor because the sap has changed. The Davenport’s bottle a sampling from each time they boil sap to make syrup. The stunning array of amber and gold in the photograph below reflects their syrup through the years.

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I left with a jugs and jugs of syrup, maple cream, and boxes of maple candy. Poor Mrs. Davenport probably thought I was crazy because I couldn’t help but give her a big hug when I left. I was so happy; I just couldn’t contain myself!

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The whole experience was magical. I think that’s the part I love the most about food and cooking – the exploration. Seeing where food comes from and meeting the wonderful people who create, grow, and craft our food gives me such immense pleasure. I feel so fortunate to have these opportunities. Many, many thanks to the Davenport family for the tour and to Jaimee Constantine for sharing this special place with me. Until I am able to get up that way during sugar season for their New England pancakes, I am sharing a Southern-style pancake recipe made with cornmeal.

Lastly, thanks to Lisa for helping this happen, sharing her world, and making my life a little sweeter all around.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
VA

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Georgia Cornmeal Buttermilk Pancakes
Makes 10

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup fine yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more if needed
Maple syrup, for accompaniment

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter in a bowl or liquid measuring cup. Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined.

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and lightly coat with canola oil. Ladle ¼ cup batter into the pan for each pancake, cooking only a few at a time. Cook until the bubbles on the top burst and the bottoms are golden brown, about 1½ minutes.

Flip the pancakes and cook until golden, about 1 minute. Transfer to a baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. Transfer to warmed serving plates. Serve hot or warm with maple syrup.

Photo credit – Virginia Willis

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Southern Saturdays with Virginia: 5 Weekend Breakfast Recipes Friday, Feb 4 2011 

It’s cold. It’s wet. Half the country is buried under snow. It’s snowing in Austin, Texas?

So, this my friends, may be the one blog out of the 120 million not devoted to wings, dip, or chili. (By the way, here’s one we did when I was at MSL).

It’s also not a blog tweeting and posting about Superbowl for this weekend. I prefer college ball, myself, but I do care about Taste of the NFL. Each year, net proceeds from the Taste of the NFL’s Super Bowl event are donated to Feeding America affiliated food banks in each of the NFL cities with an emphasis on the Super Bowl host city’s food bank.

Now, that’s something to cheer about! But it’s cold and it’s wet and I can’t seem to stay focused.

Last weekend Southern Saturdays with Virginia was all about seafood gumbo. Teri Grooms made it for her dad and sent me the pic above. Cat over at
Neo-homesteading put her very cool spin on it and Karmic Kitchen made me very hungry for the fresh picked crab in her version.

So, what to do this weekend?

It’s cold. It’s wet. Soup again? Nope. I want to snuggle in and make breakfast. Not yoghurt and fruit. That’s weekday. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s the weekend. I want eggs, grits, biscuits, and bacon.

Wings, chili, and dip are for Sunday. So, in the meanwhile, here are 5 of my favorite weekend breakfast recipes. Give them a try and let me know what you think.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Dutch Baby Pancake

Dutch Baby Pancake
Serves 2 to 4

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Sorghum, cane, maple syrup, or jelly, for accompaniment

Heat the oven to 400°F. Melt the butter in a 10 inch iron skillet in the oven. Meanwhile, whisk together the mix flour, milk, eggs, and salt. When butter has melted, pour the flour mixture into hot skillet. Bake until puffed and brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven & sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges serve with syrup or jelly.

Skillet Baked Eggs
Oeufs en Cocotte

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetables such as cooked spinach, kale, or broccoli
1/4 cup “savory” such as chopped ham, bacon, chopped tomatoes, sautéed onion, or sautéed mushrooms
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, and chives
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to broil and place a rack 10″ from the heating element. Grease two small gratin dishes with butter. To each dish, add 2 tablespoons of vegetables. Using your fingers, make 2 nests in each and crack 2 eggs into each dish. Add the savory element such as ham, bacon, tomato, or onion. Divide herbs equally. Pour 1 tablespoon of heavy cream into each dish.

Sprinkle each dish with 1 tablespoon of parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to oven rack and broil until the cheese is golden brown, the whites of the eggs are set, and the yolks are still slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Use tongs and a kitchen towel to transfer dishes to 2 serving plates lined with paper napkins to prevent the dishes from slipping. Serve immediately.

Ham-and-Swiss Frittata
Serves 4 to 6

An Italian frittata is an open-faced omelet similar to a Spanish tortilla. A French omelet is cooked very quickly over high heat, and additions like herbs, cheese, or vegetables are enclosed in the center of a two- or three-part fold. Frittatas and tortillas are cooked more slowly. The additional ingredients are whisked into the eggs and cooked at the same time. This delicious and easy dish makes a satisfying, simple supper with a side salad. Or take the Spanish approach, and cut the frittata into bite-size cubes and serve it skewered as a simple hors d’oeuvre. Ham and eggs are, of course, a marriage made in heaven. Used cured ham in this recipe, or if using country ham, halve the amount, so it will not be too salty.

11/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
4 to 6 slices cured ham, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar or Gruyère cheese (about 21/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the top rack about 6 inches from the broiler element. Preheat the broiler. In a large, ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and ham and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, half of the cheese, and the chives. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.

Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and cook for 3 minutes, occasionally lifting the cooked egg around the edge with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to let the raw egg flow underneath. Decrease the heat to low and cook, covered, until the underside is golden, about 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Sprinkle the remaining half of the cheese on the top of the frittata. Broil the frittata in the skillet until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 1 minute, depending on the strength of your broiler. Let cool slightly. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Mini Country Ham Cheddar Biscuits
Makes about 2 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour, more for the board and rolling out
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (1.25 ounces)
1/3 cup finely diced country ham (1.75 ounces)
1/2 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing
2 large eggs, beaten

Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour with the baking powder, salt, and pepper. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until it’s the size of large peas. Stir in the cheese and ham and make a well in the center. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs. Pour the liquid into the well and quickly stir until the dough is moistened. (Alternatively, it may also be made in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Once the butter has been added and is the size of peas, pulse in the cheese and ham. Then, pour in the buttermilk mixture and pulse to combine. The dough will pull from the sides of the bowl.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it holds together. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 3/4 inch thick. Cut out rounds of dough with a 1 1/2 –inch round cutter dipped in flour; press the cutter straight down without twisting so the biscuits will rise evenly when baked. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. If the biscuits are baked close together the sides will be moist. If the biscuits are baked further apart, the sides will be crisp.

Gently press the remaining scraps together and cut out more biscuits. (These are more worked and will be a little tougher and likely not as pretty, but they still taste good!) Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet and using a pasty brush, lightly brush the tops with buttermilk. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until golden brown and risen. Serve hot.

Fried Apple Pies
Makes 8 to 10

10 ounces dried apples
8 cups water
Granulated sugar, to taste
2 cups canola oil
2 1/2 cups self rising flour, more for dusting
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled
2/3 cup buttermilk, chilled
Confectioner’s sugar, for serving

Place the apples in a large bowl. Add 6 cups cold water. Set aside to rehydrate at least 4 hours or overnight. Place the soaked apples with any remaining liquid in a large saucepan. Add remaining 2 cups water and sugar to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook until thickened and the apples are beginning to break down, about 1 hour. Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool to room temperature. Set aside.

When ready to fry the pies, heat the oil in a large heavy-duty skillet over medium heat. The temperature should read 350 degrees when measured with a deep fat thermometer.

Meanwhile, place the flour in a medium bowl. Using a pasty cutter or 2 knives, cut the shortening into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and stir until dough forms. Transfer to a clean work surface lightly dusted with flour. Knead until firm.

Pull off a biscuit size piece of dough. On the lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a circle 4-inches across, about the size of a teacup saucer. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the room temperature apple mixture in the center of the circle. Fold the dough over to form a half moon. Press with your fingertips to seal the edges. Dip the tines of a fork in flour, then press the tines of the fork around the edges of the dough to seal completely.

Transfer the pie to the heated oil and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining dough and apples. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

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