Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When People Are Used to the Good Stuff .. a Tale of Piloncillo Syrup

I grew up with pancake syrup, something that was most likely corn syrup with some artificial flavorings along with preservatives, and, as advertised, 2% maple syrup. For the life of me I can't recall the brand name, but it wasn't as high end as Mrs. Butterworth's or Log Cabin. It was supposed to be better than the store brand which didn't have any real maple at all.

(Of course, what can 2% real maple syrup really do for the flavor? I think it was only there for marketing purposes.)

My first experience with 100% real maple syrup was a revelation. The flavors were amazing! It felt like there was no going back after that. We enjoyed it on pancakes as well as drizzled over vanilla ice cream. I've even been known to use it with sparking water for a not-too-sweet maple soda. Also, as I learned more about food I decided I didn't want to ingest high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, or preservatives. 100% real maple syrup was the way to go.

Except ... it's expensive! I pay about $14 for a 32 oz. jug at Costco, and that is actually a great price. However, my family goes through way too much of it every time we have waffles or french toast. It isn't even that they pour so much on one waffle; it's that they eat three or four huge waffles each (the big waffles with four pieces, times three or four).

I wanted to come up with a less expensive solution that would still incorporate an unrefined sweetener, and read on Penniless Parenting about making jaggery syrup. Penny was making it to use in place of honey in baked goods, and I plan to do the same, but I was also hoping we could use it in place of maple syrup on french toast and waffles.

The recipe was easy to follow and I definitely got the consistency right, although it took me more than the six minutes of boiling that Penny specifies. That might be because I was aiming to get to 220°F. I used piloncillo sugar, which is the same thing as jaggery.

However, when I asked Papa if he thought he could eat it on french toast or waffles he didn't exactly answer. Not a yes, not a no, but an expression that might as well have been a no. I think it is because the molasses flavor is quite strong. J said sure, he would use it as a maple syrup replacement even though it doesn't taste like maple syrup. Then again, J is quite addicted to syrup.

Doing the math, I can make 32 oz. of piloncillo syrup for $2.98, which is significantly less expensive than maple syrup. I think it's worth it, honestly. If we use two 32 oz. jugs of maple syrup per month between breakfasts and cooking/baking then we could save $22 a month, or $264 a year.

(In terms of trying it in my bread as a replacement for honey, it wasn't as successful as I hoped; the bread crust was tough and the bread itself wasn't as moist.)

I understand what it is like to be accustomed to the "good stuff". When we ate ice cream we much preferred high end brands (the super premium stuff), and truth be told it made the store brands of my youth taste pretty inferior because they weren't nearly as rich or creamy. Likewise, expensive, luscious, organic European butter was head and shoulders above store brand butter. Artisan breads are tastier (and more expensive) than a basic store bought loaf. And yes, 100% real maple syrup tastes much better than pancake syrup.

In some ways I am kind of sorry that we ever got to a place where we could afford to eat foods like that because scaling back feels like more of a sacrifice than it needs to be. I was never unhappy with our pancake syrup when I was growing up. As a child any ice cream was a delight beyond compare; we didn't turn down so much as the chance at a cheap soft serve cone.

A few days after my piloncillo syrup making experiment I made french toast; I served it with the piloncillo syrup, and no one, not even Papa complained. He said it doesn't taste as good as maple syrup, of course, but it isn't bad.

I'll probably put piloncillo syrup on the table for us on regular days and save the maple syrup for special occasions likes birthdays.

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