Pure maple syrup is made from the boiled sap of the sugar maple tree. The caramel-colored, maple-flavored corn syrup commonly drizzled on waffles and pancakes and called "pancake syrup" has no relation to the real thing.
In early spring, throughout Canada and the northern United States, most notably in New York and New England, taps for collecting sap appear on the trunks of maple trees. Sugaring season, as it is called, lasts for a month or so, as long as the nights are cold and the days are warm enough to get the sap rising. A long boiling reduces the clear, fresh sap to a rich, aromatic, amber syrup. Good-quality maple syrup will taste of vanilla and caramel. To make a single gallon of maple syrup, up to 40 gallons of fresh sap must be boiled down.
Blended maple syrups contain anywhere from 2 to 15 percent real maple syrup. Pure maple syrup is expensive, but it is so flavorful that less is needed. Maple syrup is graded according to its quality and color. In general, the lighter the color, the milder-tasting the syrup.
Smaller amounts that can be used within 2 months can be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Store large amounts of syrup in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator indefinitely.
Use maple syrup much as you would honey. Add it to barbecue sauces, muffins, quick breads, frostings, glazes, fresh fruit salads and salad dressings. And, of course, drizzle it generously over pancakes, waffles and French toast.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)