Sunday, September 11, 2011

Maple Sugar Cake

This recipe reminded me of my sugaring off days. Unless you live in New England, the phrase sugaring off may call to mind the Currier and Ives prints of a pair of oxen harnessed to a sledge with men pouring wooden buckets of sap into a barrel on the sledge. Nowadays the maple sugar producers do it with miles of clear plastic pipe running from the trees to the sugar house where the sap is boiled down into syrup.
In my day, we did it with an old fashioned milk can pushed by a crew of eleven and twelve year olds over the bumpy ground in a baby carriage. Sugaring off was a scheme of my friend Frankie, Mrs. Curtiss's son. In the heyday of the Curtiss's operation, which must have been around 1890, sugaring off was just one of the many things that went on on their property. There was a sugar house, which Mr. Curtiss, always the conscienscous steward of the property, kept in repair, buckets, which some one in the past had unaccountably painted white both inside and outside, the spigots that one pounded into a hole drilled in the maple tree to allow the sap to drip into the bucket, and a huge sheet metal pan with a faucet for draining the sap out once it was boiled down. Everything was there but the oxen and the sledge.
Frankie started planning the sugaring off in the summer. We decided the sugar house wouldn't work, but found an outdoor fire pit where the workers ran a second sap boiling operation. He set us (his sisters and me) to work cutting wood for the fire and persuaded his father to have the fire pit repaired. I remember spending entire days cutting wood for the woodpile. Around 5:30 either Mrs. Curtiss would send me home, or my mother would call, and I jumped on my horse, Daisy, and shambled off down the road home.
When March finally came and the temperature rose above freezing in the daytime, the sap started running and we got to work. Saturdays, Sundays, and the one day a week our school got out at 3:00, we drilled and pounded and poured and emptied and boiled. I became a regular weekend fixture at the Curtisses' midday dinner. I usually stayed to lunch either Saturday or Sunday, but since we were working so hard, I didn't want to take the time to go home and come back.
Once the sap had thickened somewhat, we drained it out of the sheet metal pan and carried it down to Mrs. Curtiss's kitchen. There we poured it into a huge aluminum kettle and it boiled some more. Mrs. Curtiss was much more tolerant of the schemes of her offspring than my mother was. I would have never dreamed of asking my mother if we could boil maple syrup in her kitchen. But Mrs. Curtiss put up with the clouds of steam coming out of the kettle, and the accompanying inconvenience of having at least one of the burners occupied all the time.
The steam had one beneficial result from her point of view. It steamed off the wallpaper, and that summer the Curtisses renovated their kitchen.
We got about 25 pints of syrup for our labors and bottled it in little log cabin shaped bottles. I don't remember bringing any of it home, but I might have. We didn't eat pancakes in our family, so there wouldn't have been much of a use for it.
I started out looking for the maple sugar for the cake this summer, at a farmers' market in Norfolk, Connecticut. The maple sugar producers there did not make maple sugar, and really didn't have much idea where I could find it. Note that the recipe calls for maple sugar, not maple sugar candy, which is that stuff that comes in little boxes in the shape of maple leaves and boy and girl pilgrims. Maple sugar candy has cream in it, which is not what the author of the recipe had in mind, I think.
My husband cleverly went on line and located it in Vermont at It's called granulated maple sugar and has a wonderful evocative smell.
The recipe says use eight inch cake pans. I think ours are 9 inches, and the resulting layers were about an inch thick. I ended up making another batch of cake batter and filling a third cake pan so the cake would be an acceptable thickness.
This is a very easy cake to make. Nothing fussy about it at all.

Maple Sugar Cake

1 cup soft maple sugar (granulated maple sugar)
1/4 cup shortening
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped nuts
Maple frosting

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2. Cream together the maple sugar and shortening until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks.
3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add to the batter alternately with the milk. Fold in the nuts.
4. Spoon into two greased eight-inch layer pans and bake about twenty-five minutes or until done. Cool on a rack before filling and frosting with maple frosting.
Makes six to eight servings.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds wonderful. I can just see you guys messing around. I'm sure your mother was happy to have you out from underfoot all day.