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The flavour of pure maple syrup is distinctive and not easily mistaken for any other sweetener.  Maple syrup, along with toasted walnuts and earthy tasting fresh mushrooms, are what make this Salad of Marinated Mushrooms so suggestive of Autumn and the beginning of colder weather.

The one-and-only-original-maple-tree-tapper is the red squirrel, who gnaws at the maple’s bark until the sap flows and freezes into a sort of maple popsicle for squirrels.  But it was the Northeastern tribes of American Indians who taught European settlers how to “sugar” (i.e. turn the sap of certain varieties of maple into sugar and syrup), and generations of Americans and Canadians have been “sugaring” annually ever since.

“Sugaring-off” (the term used for collecting the sap and turning it into syrup) is more than the sum of the steps in the sugaring process.  It is also about bringing families and communities together, making them closer.

Writer Roaldus Richmond has this to say about a sugaring-off he attended back in the 30’s:

“Sugaring-offs are traditional events.  No self-respecting sugar-maker lets a season pass without inviting all-comers into the woods to enjoy his new-made sugar-on-snow…There’s something about a sugaring-off party that makes people loosen up, drop the barriers, relax into jovial spirits and easy friendliness.  A sugaring-off brings out the better side of folks…The men and women and children swarming around the sugarplace share a common hunger, with the delightful means of satisfying it close at hand…It is difficult to hate, or even dislike anyone at a Vermont sugaring-off…

“..At last it is ready.  The hot sugar is ladled onto the snow..quickly cooling and hardening into brittle amber pools..The sugar is taken up with forks, wound about the tines, and lifted to the mouth..Crisp plain doughnuts help temper the sweetness, and strong hot coffee tops off the feast.”

“..The music begins and voices join in…The grown-ups are wistful remembering other sugaring-offs in the past.  The youngsters are wistful, dreaming about what they’ll do when they grow up…The warmth fades from the air…It is suddenly cold as good-byes are said and people straggle homeward.”

Were this only a bit of nostalgia for a lost past, regret might sadden the memory of this annual North American ritual.  However, this tradition isn’t long-gone…families and communities in Northeastern Canada and the United States still get together when the sap runs in the maples to enjoy a sugaring-off and each other’s company.

Salad of Marinated Mushrooms, Red Grape,Yellow and Red Cherry Tomatoes and Toasted Walnuts  (for 6 people)

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  • 1/3 cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1 teaspoon of dried Dill Leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh or dried Oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground Cumin
  • a few grinds of Black Pepper and Salt
  • 1/2 pound Button Mushrooms, sliced:  If the space between the mushroom cap and stem is still sealed, it is a sign of freshness and there is no need to remove the stem before slicing the mushrooms.  Cut off only a small slice at the base of the stem to remove the part that is slightly dry and discolored.
  • 1/2 pound mixed Red Grape, Yellow and Red Cherry Tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup Walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • about 1 cup of Mâche (aka: lamb’s lettuce, feldsalat, nüsslisalat, or corn salad)

How to Store Mushrooms:  Fresh mushrooms that aren’t being used right away keep well in the refrigerator for several days by lining the mushroom carton with a couple of paper towels, replacing the mushrooms in the carton, covering them with two more paper towels and wrapping the carton in plastic wrap:

1.  Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, maple syrup, lemon juice, dill, oregano, cumin and several grinds of black pepper and salt.

2.  Pour this vinaigrette over the sliced mushrooms and tomato halves and set the salad aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.

3.  Separate and wash the leaves of mâche just before serving the salad.  Refresh the leaves in ice water for a minute or two..

…drain and dry them in a cotton dish towel or salad spinner.

4.  Stir the walnuts into the mushrooms and tomaotes.  Divide the salad among plates…

…and arrange leaves of mâche on each salad:

A Note: Salad of Marinated Mushrooms is the Salad Course in the Lunch Menu:  Fish and Chicks:  a Long, Leisurely Early Autumn LunchThis recipe is adapted from one in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty (2010).

A Second Note:  “Simple Bites in the Big Woods:  A Sugaring Off Story” is an entertaining illustrated account of a Canadian family’s 2011 sugaring-off.

A Final Note:  If you have the trees (sugar, black, or red maples) and would like to try making your own maple syrup, ruralvermont.com describes how to do it.

© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012