Oh, real maple syrup, we’ll always have eyes for you. But since your precious sap comes at a price that feels steep when we want more than a trickle, we need to broaden our horizons. You know, play the field a bit. We hear there are other trees we could tap (pine? hickory? walnut? birch?), though it sounds like they also play pretty hard to get. We won’t let our eyes wander too far - just perhaps to some trees that usually feature something hanging a bit higher up: apples!
Jonathan Carr and Nicole Blum grow 2,000 cider apple trees at their orchard in Hadley, Massachusetts. And Carr’s Ciderhouse most definitely rules—Jonathan has a master’s degree in the plant and soil science of hard cider apples. In the decade-plus that Jonathan and Nicole have been making cider, they’ve experimented with other ways to use it, like vinegar and syrup. For the syrup, freshly pressed apple cider gets boiled down until thick and caramelized and seriously irresistible. It can swing sweet or savory, so go ahead and treat pancakes or waffles to a generous drizzle, but don’t forget to whisk it into dressings, swizzle it into cocktails or to brush on your weekly roast chicken or holiday ham. We like them cider apples. A lot.
Though it’s best known for cocktails, classic grenadine charms us as much as Shirley Temple herself. City of Daughters in Brooklyn, New York makes a small-batch rose hip grenadine that tastes of its main ingredient: pomegranates. No Red Dye No. 40 or high fructose corn syrup here. (It’s made by a trio that’s two parts hip East Village cocktail bar owners and one-part sister/sister-in-law of hip East Village cocktail bar owners). We use it for cocktails, of course, but also use it when caramelizing onions that we heap a glistening tangle atop goat cheese smeared on crispy crackers. This grenadine is on deck for cooking our cranberries down this Thanksgiving and makes a holly-jolly topping for panna cotta in the white of winter. No wonder Shirley Temple always had such rosy cheeks.
Dates are nature’s candy. But what about when you want their sticky sweetness in pourable form? That’s where Coleen Sundlie (aka, The Date Lady) was after when she returned from living in the United Arab Emirates with her family for a short stint. In the Middle East, they’ve been pressing dates for syrup for thousands of years - ever since they first discovered that stacked sacks of dates naturally weep this liquid gold. Coleen became even more obsessed with making it in Springfield, Missouri when she found out that it was a delicious source of iron, potassium, copper, magnesium and vitamin B-6. She stirs it into her morning coffee, uses it in place of sugar in baking and works it into everything she eats for breakfast. We’ll have what she’s having. We also love to dip our apples into it, zigzag it over our almond butter toast and drizzle it over bacon-wrapped dates. One date isn’t enough - we want to go steady with this syrup.
Really maple, it’s not you, it’s us.