What would pancakes be without maple syrup? Or sauces for seafood, poultry and meat? Don’t forget cocktails. Bartenders and cocktail connoisseurs today substitute maple syrup instead of simple syrup to achieve an unexpected twist and flavor in classic cocktails.
The nutty, vanilla and spicy hints of maple can liven up many classic recipes. The all-natural sweetener makes a great ingredient in glazes, rubs or barbeque sauces for poultry, meat, seafood or vegetables. It also adds a subtle touch of sweetness to a range of dishes, from fresh fruit, cereal and ice cream to tea, coffee, and smoothies.
Arnold Coombs of Bascom Family Farms jokes his family’s embrace of maple and maple syrup might be because his grandfather was allergic to bees so they got out of their original business of supplying honey to foodservice operations. But embrace it they have and many restaurants in the tri-state area are excited to offer and use it in their own kitchens.
Originally a wholesale business which delivered to stores in New England and Hudson Valley, New York, and some on Long Island, the family operation started out as a maple candy business back in 1925. The Coombs’ family has been distributing maple products ever since.
Bascom Farms supplies pure maple syrup and a pure maple sugar, depending on what a foodservice operation’s formulation requires. “We’re the largest manufacturer of maple sugar in the industry,” Coombs asserted. “We have our own production facility for that, and it just takes pure maple syrup and converts it into a sugar, essentially taking the moisture out of the syrup and leaving a crystallized sugar behind.”
Restaurants require a slightly less strong type of maple syrup or maple sugar, Coombs noted. “It depends what the restaurant is doing. Most of them want something like a Grade A, dark color, robust taste, or amber color. Some restaurants are cooking with it, some are using it as a topping, so it depends.”
Bascom also has built a significant business supplying manufacturers with sugar as an ingredient, companies like Boar’s Head Meat, Stonyville Yogurt, Johnsonville Sausage, Clif Bar, anything that might use pure maple as a flavoring or sweetener.
Bascom has also taken the lead in providing the industry with both a kosher and certified organic line of solutions. Coombs explained: “We provide a written forest management plan showing that it’s practicing sustainable forestry. “When an inspector comes out to our farm, they look to make sure we’re not over-tapping the trees, going too far into the trees when we tap,” Coombs said. “We’re not thinning the woods in an inappropriate way. We’re doing it in a sustainable way. They also make sure we’re not taking too much sap from the tree and we use plastic tubing to go from tree to tree. Not many farmers use buckets anymore and we have 400 miles of tubing out in the woods that has to be cleaned. The inspector looks at how you clean it, making sure you’re using the right cleaners, correctly, and that you’re documenting it.”
Coombs added that another feature that makes his business stand out is the customer support it offers.
“We do more than just supply, we have a knowledge base, and a customer support staff to back it up. We’ve been around a long time, so we’ve heard most of the questions, the different uses, the specs, all that a customer is looking for — the grade explanation, as you get darker in color, you get stronger in flavor. That’s what makes the grades different. The kinds of questions that restaurants often have.”
Pure maple syrup isn’t cheap. But it’s worth it, Coombs declared. “If someone’s not using that much, they might want to charge $1.50 to $2.00, just to have a customer step up to using pure. When I go into a restaurant, if I’m going to order pancakes and they don’t have the real thing available, I’ll go out to my car and bring my own. BYOS. Bring in my own syrup!”
In its 31 years of business, Bascom Farms has seen some changes. “More and more restaurants are using pure, and not just as a topping. It used to be the big three: pancakes, French toast, and waffles. But now we’re seeing it as an ingredient a lot more. A lot of bakeries now use a pure maple, which wouldn’t have happened outside of Vermont 20, 30 years ago.
“Most of our customers come to us. We have very good quality. People move from one restaurant to another. And they say, I used to get this at the other place we should get it here,” Coombs pointed out proudly.
The company makes its own syrup but it also buys from other farmers. “We sell more than we produce and there is a real art to blending that syrup to get a consistent flavor profile time after time,” Coombs related. “So when someone buys syrup now, compared to six months ago or years ago, it’s the same flavor profile. And restaurants, especially if they’re using it as an ingredient, really want a consistent product. That’s what we do.”
To learn more about Bascom Family Foods and their maple solutions, visit their website.