5.23.2007

P.S. I'm an idiot


I’ve been reading Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. I plan to put both their Fresh Bacon and Pancetta recipes into action, once my pink salt arrives from Butcher & Packer. Until then, I am content to flip through the book, marveling at the recipes and fantasizing about how impressed my dinner party guests will be when I present them with my homemade duck prosciutto. Ruhlman & Polcyn are so passionate on the joys of curing and smoking your own meat, and I was completely smitten with the idea of doing it myself after reading a section referencing the opening scenes in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods, when Pa would smoke venison inside a hollowed-out tree. Like any other girl of a certain age who fancied herself the next Melissa Gilbert, I loved the adventures of Laura and her family braving the late 1800s wilderness. And, naturally, this brought back, from the hazy abyss, the time my friend Carolyn and I attempted to recreate the maple candy that Laura and her sister Mary made.

It seemed so easy: Laura and Mary, would go out in the frigid Wisconsin winter, fill a cast iron pan with fresh snow and pour maple sap straight from the trees onto the snow. The sap would harden into a wonderful maple candy that they couldn’t get enough of. In the book, Laura and Mary were ages 4 and 6 (my memory might be a little rickety on this front, but I know they were both well under 10 during the maple candy story).

One snowy day, Carolyn and I decided to make maple candy of our own. We would be Laura and Mary, but with much more expensive shoes. We didn’t have a frigid Wisconsin winter handy, but the Brooklyn blizzard raging outside our window seemed like it would do in a pinch. We trekked outside and filled our large frying pan with fresh, untouched New York City snow. Back in the apartment, we broke out the Log Cabin and excitedly drizzled it onto the snow. In retrospect, I’m a little amazed at how disappointed we were when the syrup sunk right into the snow, instead of solidifying into the fabulous maple candy experience we were banking on.

But we were resolute. If 4- and 6-year old Laura and Mary Ingalls could do this, then 22-year old Carolyn and I could too. Naturally, we didn’t stop to think about their straight-from-the-tree sap vs. our highly refined, super-processed, extra-long shelf-life faux maple-flavored syrup-style product. It had become the late 1900s vs. the late 1800s. The city vs. the country. Us vs. the 4-year old. We had every advantage imaginable. No contest, right?

By now, we were so caught up in our determination not to be bested by a 4-year old, that piddly little things like common sense and basic science were chucked out our 2nd story window. We thought, perhaps, our Log Cabin was too thick, and decided to heat it up. Not surprisingly, the microwaved faux-syrup melted the snow and we were left with a pan of imitiation maple flavored ick.

Final score:
4-year old, 1
22-year olds, 0

Despite our keen sense of stupidity, Carolyn and I eventually did sample some real maple candy, but it was years later, on a trip to upstate New York, and it was professionally manufactured (presumably, by 4-year olds). It was disappointing, probably because we hadn’t made it ourselves, but we consoled ourselves with the fact the while Laura and Mary had homemade maple candy, we have Jacques Torres. And that’s no contest.

3 comments:

Carolyn said...

Hey, don't forget. We also did try it with some genuine naturalvermont maple syrup that Keith brought from Vermont, which failed just as spectacularly as Aunt Jemima did.

lollya said...

Hey! Laura and Mary were from Minnesota!!

Andrea said...

You're totally right, but during the "Little House in the Big Woods" era, it was all Wisconsin. Walnut Creek was/is in Minnesota. Am I a complete "Little House on the Prairie" geek? I still kind of have a crush on Almanzo.