Native Americans of the Northeast woodlands first used hollowed-out logs to collect liquid trickling from maple trees. White-hot stones were dropped into the liquid, and as it evaporated, the liquid condensed into syrup, which crystalized into sugar.

Maple sugar was durable and could be carried in pouches more easily than syrup; the sugar was traded with the colonists, and eventually, production know-how was passed on to them. This made Americans self-sufficient in sugar production and less dependent on imported sugar. But as transportation improved and the railroads made the cheaper cane sugar from the South available, sugar makers diverted their production efforts toward a market for syrup.

Maple sugar is twice as sweet as granulated sugar and can be used in many recipes calling for sugar, but in lesser quantity. It’s available in many specialty shops and through online sources. Be sure to look for pure maple sugar and avoid maple-flavored sugar, which tends to be granulated sugar with artificial maple flavoring.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has set the standard by which maple syrup is graded. Though color is a general indication of flavor (the lighter the color the more delicate the taste), each bottle of syrup is labeled with one of four grades:

U.S. Grade A Light is the lightest color — transparent gold — and flavor.

U.S. Grade A Medium Amber is darker than Grade A Light and has a slightly more intense flavor. It is the most popular grade of table syrup.

U.S. Grade A Dark Amber has an even stronger flavor, is somewhat thicker and is often used incoming. This darker syrup (including Grade B) is preferred for cooking because the taste is most distinctive even after being mixed with other ingredients.

U.S. Grade B is sometimes called “cooking syrup” and is preferred by many for baking and cooking because of its deep flavor and caramel undertones.

Bacon Maple Waffles

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups 2 percent reduced-fat-milk

3 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons butter, melted

4 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Cooking spray

1/2 cup maple syrup

1. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Place flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl; stir with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture. Combine milk, 3 tablespoons syrup, butter, bacon and eggs, stirring with a whisk. Add milk to flour mixture; stir just until moist.

2. Preheat waffle iron. Coat iron with cooking spray. Spoon about 1/3 cup batter per waffle onto hot waffle iron, spreading batter to edges. Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until steaming stops; repeat procedure with remaining batter. Serve waffles with 1/3 cup syrup.

Yields five servings (2 waffles each) at 411 calories.

(Source: Cooking Light)

Susan Woody has been a food writer for more than 25 years and is a member of the Association of Food Journalists.