Every year, the fourth weekend in March is dubbed Maine Maple Sunday. The majority of the sugar houses in the state participate by opening up their sugar shacks and backyard (or business) operation to give tours, educate the general public about sugaring, and sale their products. I’m sure you’ve noticed—high quality maple syrup is an ingredient in many of my recipes. I love it. Since I don’t really have a sweet tooth, I can’t really say I’d drink the stuff on a normal day, but maybe I could on Maine Maple Sunday.
Chris, Izzy, and I went to Balsam Ridge Christmas Tree Farm and Sugar Shack because of its proximity to our house and the promise of hotdogs steamed in maple sap (I was intrigued).
When we arrived, we were greeted by a lady dressed up in a maple leaf costume and a couple dozen syrup lovers, walking to and fro the sugar shack like ants. We walked through the processing room where sap was being boiled in industrial boilers, and there were buckets full of the rich, amber syrup most of us know and love.
We went into the little shop where there were rows of syrup jugs of all shapes and sizes, maple cotton candy hanging from the wooden beams, and small containers of maple sugars and sauces lining the shelves.
And I finally got to try my ‘red snapper’ hotdog steamed in maple sap. It didn’t taste too different from any other steamed hotdog. I also tried maple syrup over vanilla ice cream (OMG) and maple baked beans, which inspired this week’s post.
Note: in my neck of the woods, we have Carolina Reds; they’re the hotdogs the color of 80’s bright fuchsia lipstick. When you grill them, they burn quickly and the char is about the only thing that gives them any favorable texture. Char, coupled with salty, spicy, meaty, red dye #7 make for a really bad-for-you-but-unabashedly delicious bite. My husband wouldn’t agree. But whatever—I have nostalgia on my side. New England red hotdogs and Southern red hotdogs nearly taste the same. That’s one thing the regions have in common.
Bean suppers are a thing up here. I’m pretty sure most involve red snapper hot dogs. Churches advertise them on Wednesday and Sunday nights and I often see leftover beans in mason jars and to-go containers in the office fridge.
I found an old recipe for Boston Baked Beans in a cookbook gifted to me by one of Chris’s former boss. This cookbook, one of a couple, made its way back to the East Coast (one can assume) from Fairbanks and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to recreate one of the recipes. I absolutely love it because not only do the recipes look palatable, but there are some really whimsical illustrations in it, too. Like this one:
The Call: Boston Baked Beans from Peter Hunt’s Cape Cod Cookbook
The Response: Maple-Mustard Cassoulet
This cassoulet is non-traditional in a couple ways but it includes some of the key components: beans, various meats, and veggies all of which are slow cooked for hours. What you get on the other end is a bowl full of soupy, sweet and savory, meaty, stick-to-your-ribs union of flavors that may or may not be the best bite of beans you’ve ever put in your mouth. There’s a lot going on in every bite. A lot.
Also included is a Maple Skillet Cornbread recipe. This was a last minute addition because I had a skillet generously layered with butter and chicken fat from one part of this recipe. The only thing that would have been better would have been maple biscuits (I don’t know if that’s a thing—but maybe it should be). Biscuits are always better.
- 2-3 slices of thick-cut bacon or 4-5 slices salt pork
- 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 yellow or red bell pepper, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
- 2 carrots, cut into ½ inch chunks
- 2 celery stalks, cut into ½ inch chunks
- 1 qt. chicken stock
- 2 Tbsp. Whole Grain Mustard
- 2 Tbsp. Maple Sugar (or Brown Sugar
- ½ Cup Maple Syrup
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1 meaty hambone (you want a lot of meat in the stew)
- 1 lb. navy beans, soaked overnight and drained
- 4 chicken thighs
- 1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard
- 1 tsp. maple sugar
- In an oven proof dutch oven (with a lid), lightly brown salt pork or bacon over medium heat. Remove and place in a bowl. Add olive oil to dutch oven and add diced onion bell pepper, carrots, and celery stirring to coat in oil. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until onions are translucent.
- Meanwhile, heat stock in stockpot over medium-high heat. Once steam starts to rise from the liquid, add mustard, maple sugar, and maple syrup to the stock, stirring to incorporate. Add bay leaves to the stock and set aside.
- Add garlic and stir to coat with oil. Cook 1-2 minutes or until garlic is fragrant. Add tomato paste, and stir to coat veggies and cook for 1 minute, scraping paste off the bottom of the pan as you go. Add beans and salt pork/bacon. Stir again. Add warmed stock. Stir again. Place the meaty ham bone in the center of the dutch oven with the beans and liquid. Cover and bake at 250 degrees for 2 hours.
- After 2 hours, give the beans a stir. Increase heat to 300 and bake for 2 more hours, covered.
- After hour 4, remove beans from oven and crank up the heat to 375. In a bowl, combine whole grain mustard and maple sugar. If it’s a little too thick, add a Tbsp. of the cooking liquid from the beans. Set aside.
- In a skillet, heat 2 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat. Brown chicken thighs, skin side down, for 4-5 minutes or until golden. Place, skin side up on top of the beans. Spoon/brush mustard-sugar mixture over the chicken thighs. Place back in the oven and cook uncovered for 1 hour.
- The chicken fat and butter in the cast iron skillet can’t go to waste! It’s the perfect foundation for skillet cornbread. When there’s about 30 minutes left during the last bake, place the skillet in the oven to heat up for about 10 minutes. It’s okay if the butter/fat get a little brown. If you’re worried about smoke, pour butter/fat into a bowl, wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, and heat.
- Stir together 1 ½ cup corn meal, ¾ tsp baking soda, and ½ tsp salt. In a separate bowl, combine 2 eggs, 1 cup maple yogurt and ½ cup milk (if you don’t have maple yogurt, use plain and add 2 Tbsp. maple syrup). Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring to incorporate. Remove skillet from oven. If you removed butter/fat from skillet, add it back to the pan, being sure to coat the bottom. Pour batter into hot pan and bake for 20 minutes.