Nov 15, 2019 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Nov 9, 2017

Tapping the Sweet Spot

Maple sugaring at the CIA.


In early spring at The Culinary Institute of America’s New York campus in the Hudson Valley, bachelor’s degree students in the Applied Food Studies program’s “Ecology of Food” and the Baking and Pastry Arts program’s “Chocolate and Confectionery Technology and Techniques” classes take up the time-honored practice of “maple sugaring,” just as generations of northeasterners have before them.

Yankee Pralines
Peter P. Greweling's Yankee Pralines. Photo by Ben Fink/CIA. Click image above or link below for recipe.

Working with Chef Peter Greweling from the Baking and Pastry Arts department, and Dr. Deirdre Murphy from the Liberal Arts department, they tap a stand of maple trees located at the edge of campus behind the student residence halls, and then work through the process of boiling the sap down into syrup. As students collect sap, they record daytime and nighttime temperatures, and measure and record the volume collected each day as well as its Brix (the amount of sugar it contains). At the same time that they take on the practical aspects of maple sugaring, they also study its history and learn about the place of maple trees in our northern ecosystems.

The point of putting practice together with scholarship in this way? It is knowing this: when we want to help a student understand society’s complex investment in the environments that feed us, we need to engage the full person. In the kitchens and in the classrooms, students at the CIA learn by doing with their hands and thinking with their heads. What we learn in one way—whether it’s making chocolates in a kitchen or analyzing historical documents in a lecture—influences how we understand our world in another way. For a few short weeks every spring, maple sugaring is an intense commitment, which makes it a good time to learn. For teachers and students, that’s the sweet spot.


The annual maple syrup production at CIA is an ideal opportunity for the students in my Chocolate and Confectionery Technology & Techniques class to see yet another example of flavor development and the concentration of sugar through cooking. The most fundamental concept of candy making, whether it is for hard candy, soft caramels, brittle, fudge, toffee, pralines or, virtually any other sugar confectionery, is to cook the batch to remove water, thereby concentrating the percentage of sugar in the product, and more often than not, develop flavor through various reactions, including Maillard browning, as it cooks. It is great to have the students able to witness such a dramatic transformation through this simple process; the sap from the trees contains only about 2% sugar, and has no color, and very little flavor. During cooking, as the boiling point rises due to the increased percentage of dissolved solids, the sap finally develops color, flavor and viscosity, until at 66% sugar, it is pure delicious maple syrup.”
—Chef Peter Greweling


Find 'Tapping the Sweet Spot' recipe in the Recipe section or click the link below.


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