Treats from a Tree: Welcome To Maple Country

Happy Wednesday! Welcome to Week 7 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Tonight in the kitchen we are heading to Canada, the big, beautiful neighbor that sits right above us in the United States and offers up all sorts of creative inspiration for the artistic mindset.

On the famous front…  it’s the new home of Harry and Megan, it’s the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery, it’s the creator of cheese curd covered french fries and it’s the film location star for over a dozen favorite movies (Titanic, Gorillas In the Mist, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Seven Years in Tibet, Catch Me If You Can, Anne of Green Gables, Capote, Juno, Good Will Hunting, The Notebook, Legends of the Fall, A Christmas Story, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Cutting Edge, and Fly Away Home to name just a few). It also shares an interesting fun fact with last week’s Recipe Tour destination, Brazil. Do you know what it might be? Here’s a clue…

Canada, as it turns out, is a natural leader when it comes to being a tree loving paradise. With over 318 billion on record (as of 2015), it boasts the second largest collection of trees in the world. In case you were wondering, Russia has the largest collection, then Canada, then Brazil and then the United States.  Among all those billions of trees lives one in particular that is so special it has its own name and a regular roster of visitors. Meet Comfort…

The Comfort Maple, Pelham, Ontario, Canada.

the oldest surviving sugar maple in all of Canada, possibly in all of the world. Named after the Comfort family of Pelham, Ontario who donated the tree and surrounding land to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in the 1960’s, the Comfort Maple is believed to be about 500 years old. Included in a land sale purchased by the Comfort family in 1816, this lucky sugar maple has survived more than five centuries thanks to a calm relationship with Mother Nature and years of thoughtful care from generations of the Comfort family. Standing 80′ feet tall and measuring 20′ feet in diameter at the trunk, it’s amazing to think about all the life that has occurred in and around this tree. Now a designated living monument to history, this majestic heirloom has become one of the most treasured icons in all of Canada with people from around the globe coming to picnic under its branches.

 

Like the Comfort tree, the Canadian recipe we are whipping up in the kitchen tonight is also a national favorite steeped in its own time laden history. On the menu, we are making Maple Walnut Tart, a sweet treat of a dessert that features a sugary pool of 100% pure maple syrup  that has been dotted with walnuts and then tucked between two layers of pie crust. Although, it is traditionally called a tart, it is much more of a thin, shallow pie.

Maple Walnut Tart

Born out of necessity and enterprise, Maple Walnut Tart is a Canadian manifestation of Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Pie) which was a popular dessert in France involving sugar, eggs and pastry dough. When the French started immigrating to Canada, sugar was an expensive, often unobtainable commodity. Luckily these new French Canadians had a local sweetener right in their own backyard – the sap of the maple tree. The sugar in their French pie was swapped for maple syrup and a new national dessert was born. Likewise, as a nod to further tweaks and adjustments, over the course of the past century, Maple Walnut Tart has taken on a menagerie of variations including additional ingredients. Eggs, butter, salt, cream, lemon peel, bread crumbs, granulated sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate and even other nuts create signature desserts that nowadays are almost always baked open- faced, without a top crust.

That makes the vintage recipe we are making in the Vintage Kitchen quite unusual now, since it has a traditional top and bottom crust and very few ingredients. Containing just seven in total, it is made of a collection of everyday essentials that you almost always have on hand. Because of its simplicity, it reminded me a lot of one of those homemade desserts you might whip up on the impromptu when you are craving something sweet but don’t have all the necessary ingredients on-hand to make anything remotely decadent like a chocolate layer cake or fancy cookies or a berry pie.

The star of the show and the highlight of this recipe is of course the maple syrup, one of Canada’s most well-known foods. Producing on average about 10 million gallons a year, Canada is the leader in maple syrup production in the world. Interestingly, most of it comes from one province in particular – Quebec – which means if you are a fall foliage lover with a sweet tooth that’s where you should head come Autumn!

I was excited to find 100% pure maple syrup from Quebec at Trader Joe’s. Most of the maple syrup at all the other markets or grocery stores in my neck of the woods seem to come from New York State or Vermont. At $16.00 a bottle it was a splurge for the Kitchen but after learning so much about maple syrup production for this post I have a new found appreciation for it.

Did you know that on average it takes one sugar maple between 30-50 days to produce 40 gallons of sap? That 40 gallons of sap yields just one gallon of retail-ready maple syrup. The bottle of maple syrup that I purchased for this recipe was 25 oz in total, which is just a little under a quarter of a gallon. Basically this means it took one tree, one full week to make my one bottle of maple syrup. What a feat! Although I only needed one cup for this recipe, it makes me appreciate every drop:)

This is the first recipe in the Tour that I’ve had mixed feelings about. I’ll get to the recipe first so that you can see what is involved and then I’ll follow up at the end…

Maple Walnut Tart

(serves 6-8)

1 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped

Pastry for a two crust 8″ inch pie (I used my reliable family heirloom pie crust recipe which you can find here).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the pastry and then set aside while the filling is being made.

Bring the maple syrup and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Continue to boil for two minutes. Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and add to the boiling syrup., stirring constantly for about two minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter, and cool quickly by placing the pan in the refrigerator (about 10-15 minutes).

Line an 8″ inch pie pan with the pastry, pour in the cooled syrup and sprinkle the walnuts on top.

Cover with the top crust, crimping the edges to seal, and cut a few slashes in the center of the pastry to allow steam to escape.

Bake for thirty minutes in the center of the oven. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Originally at the onset of preparing this recipe, I thought the end result was going to be  more creamy and caramel-like in both consistency and taste.  In actuality though, it is much simpler – really just imagine walnuts drizzled in maple syrup and wrapped in pie dough and you pretty much have the general gist.

Needless to say, at first bite, the tart was pretty underwhelming. My first thought was there’s not enough ingredients (ie flavor components) to make this sensational. The maple was there but it mixed very soft and very subtle with the pie crust. The walnuts, didn’t really melt or dissolve when baked in the oven and therefore left a chunky consistency. This aspect actually  turned out to be a nice contrast though with the softer syrup.

I can understand now why different versions have been created with eggs and spices and additional flavor enhancers. Every modern day recipe for Maple Walnut Tart I looked at in comparison to this one included butter, eggs, milk, vanilla, brown sugar, etc in significant quantities. In full agreement, I think ultimately, what this recipe is lacking is a creamy fat component. Over the course of this next week, I’m going to experiment with some creamier accompaniments… a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of freshly whipped cream, a few slices of apple and brie and see if that might just be all the pizzazz you might need to create a more satisfying dessert. I’ll report back on those findings next week.

In the meantime, I’m excited and anxious for you guys to try this recipe and see what you think. In my opinion, it tastes better served at room temperature on the third day. I’m not sure if it’s because I have sampled it a few times in order to get an accurate understanding of the tart or if this dessert is actually starting to grow on me, but it seems to be one of those recipes like fruit cake that gets better with time. After discovering all the labor that went into making the maple syrup on the tree’s behalf, I really wanted this recipe to be phenomenal right away, but maybe that’s the spirit of the syrup.  After all, it took  one entire week out of one tree’s life to make the sap! Maybe this recipe is slow to bloom in more ways than one:)

Lucy Maude Montgomery’s most famous literary character, Anne Shirley said… “Maples are such sociable trees. They’re always rustling and whispering to you.”

Perhaps this vintage recipe is whispering to us too.

Cheers to maple trees and to the incredibly long life of Comfort and to sugary sweet contemplations in the kitchen. There is always something to think about around here.

Join us next week as we head to spicy Ceylon, a true time-traveler of a kitchen feat since the country doesn’t exist anymore:)