A number of years ago, I had the good fortune to spend a few days in Vermont during maple sugaring season. It was an extraordinary experience that I will never forget. One of the many amazing individuals I met was Burr Morse, who runs the family sugaring business at the Morse Farm Maple Sugar Works, in Montpelier, Vermont. The pic at the left was taken by my hubby from inside the Morse Farm sugar house looking out to the yard. Below right is Burr Morse, who likes to say he lives “where the sap flows sweeter!”
Burr aptly describes himself as a “real Vermonter,” with “roots that have reached into the same Vermont hillside for seven generations.” Other qualifications he mentions: “I constantly crave dried beef gravy, sugar on snow, and peas with new potatoes. To me, splitting wood and hefting bales are the two best exercises.” (In case you haven’t heard of it, sugar on snow is a simple taffy of boiled-down maple sugar that’s cooled by drizzling it over snow.)
Though Burr claims that his late father was the true larger-than-life character in the family, his quick, sly wit and cultivated air of back woods folksiness win him plenty of “colorful Yankee” character points of his own. For example, he says he was “agape the whole night,” the first time his son took him to a Boston Red Sox game, adding, “wow, I never realized the crucial role beer plays in a ball game…..bucket brigades of it went past us into the stands!”
Burr also has a great sense of whimsy that was evident everywhere when my husband and I visited Morse Farm. He likes to collect and rough-carve fanciful-looking old gnarled tree stumps and branches and turn them into folk art works that are displayed around the sugar shack yard. Among the “statues” shown in the pics here: A tree trunk shaped a bit like a reclining, armless woman, which he calls, “Venus de Maple.” Another exhibit features what resembles the head of an elephant and the rear of an ass; it’s titled “Republicans and Democrats.” The pic below, shows an intricate, toothy, totally charming dragon. I wish I had him for my yard!
I’d never tried maple kettle corn until I visited Morse Farm, and I will now always associate it with my time there. Burr says he invented his recipe out of dire necessity after he purchased a huge stock of pricey customized cardboard tubs to use in packaging maple gift assortments.
“I’d had to order over 17,000 containers, and customers just weren’t taking to the gift buckets like I anticipated,” he recalls. “The money I’d wasted really bothered me and I knew I just had to come up with a way to use up those tubs. As soon as I first tasted regular kettle corn at a farmers’ market in Florida, I had a brainstorm–make a maple version and sell it in the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks buckets.” The Morse Farm website now offers maple kettle corn only in bags, so he must have used up all 17,000!
While Burr’s maple kettle corn (shown below, right) requires a 20-gallon kettle, canoe paddle, and an outdoor setting, I’ve come up with a substitute can be prepared in my kitchen using only ordinary kitchen equipment.
I start by making popcorn the old-fashioned way–heating oil and popping the kernels in a large pot. Then, I cook the maple-salt-sugar mixture, and quickly stir the popcorn back into the syrup. The two-step cooking process doesn’t yield exactly the same taste or consistency as the all-in-one-pot method, but my stove-top maple “kettle” corn is tempting enough that almost nobody can stop eating till the bowl is empty. If this has put you in the mood for more maple treats, check out the maple pie or maple bars. You can also learn more about my visit to Vermont during sugaring season here.
Tip: If desired, you can ready (following package instructions) a 3.0 – 3.5 ounce bag of regular microwave popcorn instead of popping the corn on the stove. Homestyle, Natural Light and Old Fashioned flavors all work well. Avoid using popcorn with extra butter or special flavorings. In this case, since the package includes salt, omit the salt from the following recipe. (You will need about 6 to 7 cups of popped corn, the yield of most microwave bags. The following recipe is from my All-American Dessert Book.
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup, preferably grade A medium amber or dark amber, or grade B
3 tablespoons corn oil, canola oil or other flavorless vegetable oil, divided
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unpopped popping corn
Set out a very large bowl for holding the popped corn. In a small bowl, stir together the maple syrup, 1 tablespoon oil, and sugar, and set aside.
In a 6-quart or larger pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 3or 4 test kernels of corn over medium-high heat until the kernels pop. Discard them, and stir the remaining corn and the salt into the oil. Cover the pot and cook, frequently shaking the pot to redistribute the contents, until the corn begins to pop. If the pot begins to smoke, lower the heat slightly. Continue cooking, shaking the pot constantly, until the popping mostly subsides, about 2 minutes longer. (Don’t keep cooking until all kernels pop, as the bottom layer may scorch.)
Immediately turn out the popped corn into the large serving bowl, discarding unpopped kernels, if desired. Rinse out the pot and wipe it dry with paper towels. Add the maple syrup mixture to the pot. Cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon, until the mixture boils, then gradually thickens and darkens just slightly in color, about 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately remove the pot from the heat. Quickly and vigorously stir the popped corn into the maple mixture until evenly coated. Turn out the corn into the serving bowl. If desired, add a little more salt to taste; stir well to incorporate. Kitchen kettle corm is best when very fresh as it loses its crispness after a few hours. Makes a generous 1 quart kettle corn.
For yummy maple sundaes.
For my homey maple custard pie.