By: Brenna Bartley, Coordinator, Education Programs at Conservation Halton
40 years of Maple
We mark the milestones of our lives in many ways – birthdays, weddings, anniversaries; formal occasions that remind us of the passage and precious nature of time. In Ontario we are lucky to have even more to celebrate while we watch the seasons cycle from spring to summer to fall to winter and back again. This cycle is made even more poignant and memorable when we tie it to the foods we share, and the harvests that we take part in that bring them to our tables.
Mountsberg and Crawford Lake Conservation Areas celebrate the harvest of maple sap that has gone on in our region for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. We mark the coming of the spring by tapping the trees. We wait for those perfect warm days and frosty nights to entice the sap drop by drop from the spiles.
If the coming of spring wasn’t enough to celebrate after a winter like the winter of 2014, we have another reason to celebrate. He stokes the fire of the Maple Town evaporator and drives the team of Percheron Horses: Bill Stokes celebrates his fortieth anniversary with Conservation Halton this year.
Forty-one maple seasons have come and gone from the Mountsberg sugar bush under Bill’s watchful eye. It is most fitting that the first maple recipe we share this year is a favourite of Bill’s: a scrumptious Maple Baked Bean recipe.
We discovered a recipe by Food Network chef, Lynn Crawford, and whipped it up in Bill’s honour. Sadly, it was so delicious that none of it survived to be shared with Bill! It is an excellent excuse to cook this dish again – although, perhaps a double batch would be in order. To cut down on cooking time we substituted rinsed, canned navy beans for the dried beans in the original recipe.
Chef Lynn Crawford’s Maple & Bacon Baked Bean Cassoulet
2 cups white navy beans, soaked overnight
6 slices bacon, cut into lardons
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons molasses
½ cup pure maple syrup
2 cups tomato sauce
1 cup water
salt and pepper
1. To make the beans, preheat the oven to 325 ºF. Drain the beans and place them in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer for about an hour, or until beans are soft. Drain excess water from the beans and place them in an ovenproof casserole dish.
2. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the bacon to the beans. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown and add to the beans. Add the brown sugar, mustard, molasses, maple syrup, tomato sauce and water to the beans and stir to blend thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the casserole and bake for about 2 hours. The beans are done when the liquid is very thick.