Katie Webster’s debut cookbook sheds light on the myriad gastronomic possibilities of pure maple syrup
By Geeda Searfoorce | The Charlotte News
What Vermont pantry staple plays a vital role in revolutionizing the link between cooking and health? Chef, food blogger, photographer, and part-time Charlotter Katie Webster definitively answers the question in her debut cookbook, Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup, published by Quirk Books this October. Brimming with unique, everyday and special occasion recipes featuring pure maple syrup, and accompanied by beautiful rustic color photography, the book aims to offer novice and seasoned cooks a whole new way of looking at this familiar ingredient, highlighting its benefits beyond the palate.
A New England Culinary Institute graduate and contributor to Eating Well, Fitness, and Parents magazines, Webster has amassed a treasure trove of cooking videos, original recipes, and upbeat, accessible food writing at her food blog, Healthy Seasonal Recipes. But for her first book, she became drawn to focusing on this one ingredient that is such an important part of her and her family’s life.
“We are backyard sugar makers,” Katie says, “and whenever we boil, so many friends come over to help. I always try to serve up a maple feast for everyone. One of the first years we sugared I experimented with sap baked beans and sap braised pulled pork. I even made a maple bundt cake using pure maple sugar. I served it with warm bourbon apple compote. It was phenomenal! Over the years as we have made more and more maple syrup it has become our go to sweetener. I realized that it is such a diverse and well-loved ingredient that it maybe could be something to fill a whole cookbook with.”
The resulting work features a wide range of recipes for every hour of the day. From breakfasts like Overnight Whole Grain French Toast Bake with Dried Apricots and Chevre to main courses like Maple Pork Loin Roast with Apple Chutney to appetizers, soups, and sides like Maple Cashew Chicken Satay, Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup, and Sweet and Sour Skillet Coleslaw, Webster’s book leaves no tree untapped. There are tips on making fruit- and spice-infused maple syrups, unexpected cocktail combinations like Maple Meyer Lemon Whiskey Sour, and—of course—a plethora of desserts like Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie that land just in time for holiday entertaining.
Woven into the book is a narrative of how Webster has come to love backyard sugaring at her family’s home in Richmond every spring. But her emotional connections and memories associated with maple syrup are bolstered by a profound belief in the health benefits of sap as part of an overarching food philosophy. “I am first and foremost interested in making healthy food taste great and trying to do so with locally sourced and seasonal ingredients,” she says. “I belong to a CSA. I buy naturally raised meat and poultry directly from local farms and keep it frozen until I’m ready to cook it. And I have, in recent years, started to grow my own vegetables in the summer, too. That said, living in Vermont, with such a short growing season, it is challenging to eat local so I call myself a ‘pragmatic locavore.’ Which basically means I eat locally when possible, but I don’t make myself crazy if I can’t always be strict about it. As far as healthy eating is concerned, I try to stay away from fad diets and believe that everything in moderation is a-okay. I balance everything out with plenty of exercise and the majority of the time I eat whole foods and cook from scratch. I try to keep the grains we eat whole but I also make sure that I have a daily dose of something sweet so I never feel deprived.”
The science behind maple’s use as an alternative to refined sugar as a sweetener is something Webster is eager to discuss. “Cup for cup it is healthier. Because maple syrup is minimally processed—it is basically just concentrated sap from a maple tree—it still holds all of its naturally occurring trace micronutrients and minerals. It has more than 50 antioxidants in it and recent studies show that it has anti-inflammatory properties. Because it tastes sweeter than refined white sugar, you can use less of it to sweeten recipes, and it is lower on the glycemic index than corn syrup or table sugar, which means it will not cause the same blood sugar spike as these other sweeteners cause.” Webster’s book includes tips and “rules of thumb” for swapping maple syrup for refined sugar in many different recipes.
Passion for maple’s role in sustaining health extends beyond the plate, bowl spoon, and cup and into the world around us. “Maple is not a cultivated crop so it is more earth friendly,” she says. “Proper management of the maple forest is in the best interest of the sugar makers, and making syrup doesn’t hurt the trees at all. Sugaring uses just a small percentage of what the maple tree has to offer and the landscape can remain wooded. Buying maple means you’re supporting small family-run businesses. Even the biggest operations are family run and/or they aggregate syrup from other small family businesses. This helps to keep the economy in rural communities stronger.” The book offers instructions on how to get started sugaring and steps for making your way from tap to stovetop.
Webster, who has already started working on her next cookbook proposal, is thrilled that her enthusiastic exploration of maple syrup is out there in the world and making its way onto kitchen counters everywhere. “Really it’s been my hope all along that folks who pick up this book, leaf through the recipes, and then take it into the kitchen will learn what I have.”