December 14, 2010
Maple Gingerbread
Photo by Collin Anderson

(Photo by Collin Anderson)

2  1/3 cups flour

1 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon soda

1 cup sour milk

1 ½ teaspoon ginger

1 egg

4 Tablespoons melted butter

Lightly grease a baking pan.  Beat egg with fork; mix in maple syrup, milk, and melted butter.  Mix flour with soda, ginger, and salt; add egg to mixture.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.  Double receipt for 9”x13” baking pan.

Back in 1836, sugar was a bit of a luxury.  Sure, you could get molasses, brown sugar, and white sugar at a local store, but many Hoosiers did not have a lot of cash on hand to pay for store-bought items, and had many other items that they also needed to purchase in the spring.  So, most families in 1836 would look for ways to sweeten their food without having to pay for it, which means that we find a lot of recipes from 1836 that use maple sugar, maple syrup, or honey rather than sugar.

The early part of the spring, usually in early-to-mid March, is the time to make maple syrup and maple sugar.  When temperatures start to climb into the upper forties during the day, but drop back below freezing at night, the sugar maple trees will begin to run sap up from their roots to their stems.  When you tap into the right part of the tree, you can actually get the sap to drip out into buckets.  Collect enough of this sap, and you can make enough syrup and sugar to last your family at least a few months.  This is exactly what Native Americans and early Europeans living in this area did for hundreds of years – in the early spring, you could see families hauling buckets of watery sap out of the woods and pouring them into big kettles, where the sap is boiled down into syrup.

The sap that comes out of the trees is mostly water – you can only barely detect the sweet taste of the sugars that are dissolved in it.  But if you boil it long enough, the water evaporates out, and the sap starts to get thicker and sweeter.  Keep heating the syrup, and all the water will evaporate out, leaving only the sugar, which the settlers would press into cakes and store in a dark, dry place.

This process is very hard work.  It takes many, many hours to turn 30-40 gallons of sap into just 1 gallon of syrup!  Think about how much work that would be for your own family, if you wanted to have sugar at home!  But the rewards, of course, are sweet, and would allow a family to have treats at home without having to pay extra for the sugar.

This week’s recipe – or receipt, as they were called in 1836 – features the clever use of maple syrup and ginger to add sweet flavors to your meal.  The bread has a slightly sweet taste, and a lingering sweet aftertaste, but it’s not as sweet as cake or even gingerbread cookies.  Early Indiana settlers would have served this with their meal, alongside pork, beans, and perhaps even root vegetables, rather than as a dessert.  It’s a very easy and satisfying recipe that you can try for yourself at home.  While you’re eating it, just remember how much work went into making the maple syrup, and decide for yourself if your family would have been up for the challenge if you were alive in 1836!

Posted In: Miscellaneous

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