The Hungry Reader: Maple Syrup and The Little House in the Big Woods

With all the Hungry Reader nostalgia going on, we couldn't help but run to the bookshelf for our copy of Little House in the Big Woods. Whether it's hasty pudding or salt-rising bread, Ma's always got something special cooking away on her wood-fired stove! We thumbed through pages slowly, looking for one passage in particular--Mary and Laura's first taste of maple sugar:

"Here, Laura and Mary," Pa said, and he gave them each a little round package out of his pocket. They took off the paper wrappings, and each had a little, hard, brown cake, with beautifully crinkled edges. "Bite it," said Pa, and his blue eyes twinkled. Each bit off one little crinkle, and it was sweet. It crumbled in their mouths. It was better even than their Christmas candy. "Maple sugar," said Pa.

Ahh! Just as magical as we remembered it!

The next week, the entire Ingalls family travels (by horse-drawn sled, of course) to Grandpa's house to help with the maple sap harvest. The men tromp off into the woods to 'tap the trees' while the women-folk stay home to prepare a special feast. That night, everyone celebrates with good food, good music, and dancing.

Our favorite moment comes when Laura and her cousins scoop up big plates of snow and Grandma pours a ribbon of steaming syrup onto each one. The syrup hardens into candy, which is devoured immediately. The children go back for again and again another helping, for "maple sugar never hurt anybody."

We're glad to hear that this tradition of celebrating the maple harvest with a fantastic dinner and great company continues on today. In his New York Times article "Sap Happy," Oliver Schwaner-Albright describes a hearty repast of split-pea soup, piles of pancakes and fois gras drenched in maple syrup, and scrambled eggs with blood sausage. Judging by Pa Ingall's descriptions of maple harvesting, it sounds like this kind of fare is necessary fuel for the day's work!

Check out the article for a modern-day description of artisan maple harvesting and recipes for Maple-Roasted Rack of Venison and Maple Syrup Pie. For now, though, we think we'll curl up on the couch and finish reading about Laura's adventures in the Big Woods...

(photo credit: HarperCollins)