Maple Syrup and Sardines

Bela Lemon Sardines

I was driving up to Brookings to pick up my son, and I was thinking about foods that I have been stocking in my pantry these days. The top shelf (until I add another one–a project for some weekend) is full of put-by jars from last season and a few left over from the season before–saur ruben, or fermented white turnip (see previous food post), brandied peaches and peach-jalapeno chutney, tomato sauce of a couple kinds (the standard, plus a few pints of a very thick heirloom-only sauce I’ve labeled XXX), taco sauce, pickled peppers and nasturtium seeds (they make an excellent caper substitute, I’m told), lamb broth from local lamb bones I got at the farmers market, applesauce, salsa.

The other shelves I stock with canned goods from the grocery store–pre-cooked organic beans and a couple dine-and-dash soup options, whole wheat pasta and a big box of pickling salt. Lately, every time I go to the grocery store (Jones’ is the locally-owned option in Vermillion, where Jozef, the manager, caters to us foodies), I buy a can of Bela wild-caught Portuguese sardines in lemon olive oil. Local? Not in the least bit. But I have noticed that without some oily ocean fish, I get a little off-balance.

I remember when I was little, my mom used to crack open a tin of sardines every once in a while. I thought it was about the most disgusting thing a person could eat outside chicken livers. Now, I crave those little stinky fishes, and I try to keep at least three tins on hand at all times. Occasionally, I also buy a jar of herring in wine sauce, but that is more like a party snack. “Little lemony fishes,” as I call them, are a snarf-the-whole-tin-in-one-sitting rescue remedy. I do sometimes share the tin with my partner, if he happens to be here when I get that fishy feeling, but generally it’s a guilty eat-alone pleasure.

Another thing I keep on hand that is local, at least, to my home state, is a half-gallon of grade B Vermont maple syrup. You may wonder why grade B–wouldn’t I want the best? Well, that is a contrarian Vermont label right there. You see, grade A is for tourists. No Vermonter worth her sugarhouse would be caught dead with grade A fancy light amber–they go for the darkest, heaviest, most maple-saturated flavor they can buy (if they have to buy it). I don’t think that what you get in stores locally (most of which is from Canada), is anything but grade A, because if you’re going to shell out the big bucks for the real thing, you want what you perceive is the best. A little trick to keep the good stuff for themselves? Don’t put it past a Vermonter.

One time, my parents tapped the maples around the house and we proceeded to evaporate our own syrup on an outside, open woodfire. Consider that it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and you’ll realize it’s a pretty big project. We ended up with about 3 pints of what would likely have been considered “grade F” for floating particulate matter. It was the color of wet shoe leather, and it tasted like maple-flavored wood smoke. It was fantastically nasty and altogether delicious. You didn’t even miss the bacon with your pancakes.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by warren ledsky on June 18, 2010 at 11:31 am

    one of my favorate foods is sardines and maple syrup! if you like both, try tem together.

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