It’s been a very bad year for maple syrup. Temperatures across the northeast have been mild, diminishing the sap flow of maple trees and therefore syrup production.
In Montreal, we’ve been pretending not to notice. The stands at the market are still there with their towering stacks of syrup in cans, offering tire d’erable sur la neige for two dollars a pop. Hot maple syrup is poured over snow in a thin line, allowed to set briefly, and then rolled around a popsicle stick to form a sweet and sticky candy. The markets are full of small children wearing looks of intense concentration as they work their way through this Quebec spring delicacy.
Last year, I went all the way and visited a cabane à sucre, a sugar shack. A number of farms around Quebec that produce maple syrup run small restaurants as well, with the menu centering around—you guessed it—maple syrup. Traditional Quebecois cuisine—tourtières, pea soup, baked beans, and so forth—is, without exception, adorned with a generous drizzle of maple syrup. Outside, there is plenty of room to walk (or run) off the excess energy of all that sugar, and usually there is plenty to see as well. The cabane I visited had wagon rides, a bakery, and, of course, a shop filled with all things maple syrup.
The syrup in my maple cornbread isn’t the star of the show it would be if this were a sugar shack. If you feel deprived, you can certainly drizzle on some more! But I like this cornbread just the way it is—crispy from cast iron, with just a hint of sweetness, ready to accompany chili, soup, or some scrambled eggs for breakfast.
- 1/2 C cornmeal
- 1/4 C limewater (To make limewater, put an inch of pickling lime in a quart jar, cover it with water, and allow it to settle. Soaking cornmeal in limewater is a traditional practice known as nixtamalization, and makes many minerals available.)
- 1/2 C whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/4 C yogurt
- 2 T butter
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 T maple syrup
- 1 egg, beaten
The night before you make the cornbread, mix the cornmeal and limewater together in a small bowl, cover, and put aside. Do the same with the flour and yogurt in another bowl. Let everything soak for about 12 hours or overnight.
The next day, heat the oven to 200⁰F or so. Place the butter in a well-seasoned 6-inch cast iron frying pan and melt it in the oven. When it’s done, turn the temperature up to 425⁰F.
Tip the pan in all directions so that the butter completely coats it, then add it to the cornmeal mixture. Carefully in the flour soaker, then add the remaining ingredients. Pour the batter into the cast iron pan, put it in the oven, and bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is browned and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.