Laura Dean Bennett
It’s amazing, when you think of it, how from season-to-season here in Pocahontas County, natures seems to give us what we need.
And right now, I am craving something sweet.
The frozen, snowy landscape that looks so barren, does, however, yield treats for those who know how to make them.
This is the time of year that the sap of our maple trees begins to stir.
They may be standing bare, like stoic sentinels in the seemingly lifeless woods, but inside, they are busy making a wondrous elixir.
When the dripping sap is captured and carried to the sugar house and boiled, it turns into one of the most delectable liquids ever to be served to humans by Mother Nature.
Remember when the family made maple syrup and maple taffy in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods?
But even if it’s not quite time to tap the trees and you don’t make your own maple syrup, you can still enjoy the same sweet fun as our pioneer ancestors did.
As long as you have maple syrup in the pantry and a snowy day, you can make maple syrup ice cream or candy.
Make your own maple taffy- it’s easy! All you need is maple syrup and some fresh, clean snow.
Maple Syrup Taffy
Gather up some clean, fresh snow and pack it into a pie plate or roasting pan. Pack it down and set it down outside or in the freezer to stay cold, while you make your syrup.
In a small sauce pan with a pouring lip, if possible, bring 2/3 to 1 cup maple syrup and 2 tablespoons salted butter to a boil over medium-high heat.
Place a candy thermometer in the pan.
When the syrup reaches 235°F (the soft-ball stage) take it off the heat. Immediately drizzle it over the packed snow in the pan, making any design you want.
Let the syrup cool for just a minute or two, then pick it up with your fingers and eat! (If you have any loose fillings, you may want to be careful here.)
The taffy itself tastes just like maple syrup, of course, with a chewy texture that melts in your mouth.
It’s a delightfully fleeting treat. You have to eat it all while it’s cold, or the water will dissolve and the frozen candy will melt. Of course, if that happens, there’s no shame in scraping it up with a spoon – or licking the plate.
If you’re feeling extra Martha-Stewarty, wrap up a few pieces of taffy in wax paper and tuck them in the freezer to use as garnishes with your homemade maple snow ice cream.
Maple Snow Ice Cream
12 cups fresh/clean snow – this will be enough for about six-to-eight servings. The best way to get fresh snow is to set out a few bowls to catch falling snow or find a clean pile of snow and scoop it up.
2 cups of milk – it’s better if you use heavy cream or half and half – it will make it creamier.
Add 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (according to your taste), and 1/2-to-1 cup of real Pocahontas County Maple Syrup – because it’s the best.
In a large bowl, combine half and half, vanilla extract and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. This takes about three-to-five minutes.
Stir in the snow, a little at a time, until the snowy ice cream forms.
Now, you can eat it right away, but it will be soft and a little runny.
I had success getting it to set up like ice cream by wrapping it in a plastic bag, shaping it into a ball and popping it into the freezer for 30 minutes. It came out just like a big scoop of ice cream.
You can top it with a drizzle of cold maple syrup, or some of the taffy you made, and put it back in the freezer until time to serve.
It’s a good idea, if you’re going to leave the ice cream in the freezer for a while, to put it in serving bowls wrapped in plastic bags to keep the flavor fresh.
The first time I made this, I didn’t have cream. And I tinkered with the ingredient amounts and used extra maple syrup and less sugar. It didn’t firm up very well and came out like a granular mush – still a delicious snowy treat, though!
You’ll have fun experimenting until you get just the right texture and taste.
This would be a great family project on a snowy day when the kids are home from school.
And imagine the reaction of your guests, when you open the freezer and pull out bowls of homemade maple snow ice cream to top off a winter meal.
Serve, and wait for the compliments!
For anyone interested in learning how maple syrup is made, I recommend taking a tour of Frostmore Farm. Weekend tours are available by appointment, now through mid-March. Please call 304-456-4331.