Maple cornbread celebrates the spring sugaring season

The sap run has been better than expected with our strange on-again, off-again spring and early warm weather. But maple syrup is here at last, and it is as tasty as ever. This Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24, we’ll celebrate the Spring Maple Open House Weekend and there will be lots of sweetness to sample.

Check local events listings for pancake breakfasts, sugar bush and sugarhouse tours, samples, sales and sugar on snow, although this year it might be shaved ice. Head over to for a map of participating sugar makers in our area, and stock up.

Our precious syrup is not just for pouring on pancakes. We use maple in our cooking and baking all year. This week, after getting my supply of dark amber from my friend Greg’s sugarhouse, I decided to sample the new batch with a family favorite — maple cornbread. This uses another local product, organic heirloom cornmeal grown right here in town at Nitty Gritty Grain Co. Why use anything else when our local product is so delicious? High Meadow Yellow is easily found in our local markets and co-ops.

Talk to a southern cook about cornbread, and a Yankee like me may well end up in a verbal disagreement over two aspects: the addition of flour and that of sugar. The southern cook will probably tell you that neither the former nor the latter has any business in true cornbread. Northerners use both with no apology!

I have always found this interesting because in general, New Englanders do not like their foods nearly as sweet as dishes from the South. Our desserts use less sugar, our baked goods, puddings, etc., are never as sweet as some of the treats dished up in the South. And yet, with cornbread, I’m told it is almost a felony to add a bit of the sweet.

Photo by Dorothy Grover-Read. 
A slice of cornbread — drizzle with some dark amber maple syrup, and life is good.
Photo by Dorothy Grover-Read. A slice of cornbread — drizzle with some dark amber maple syrup, and life is good.

Whether South or North, corn was an important staple grain for our early settlers, every settlement had a grist mill; in the North, wheat did not grow well, so we used primarily corn, rye and buckwheat, all of which suited our climate. Corn still grows beautifully here, especially our delightful sweet corn.

My aunt’s cornbread is quick and easy, and can be made with endless variations. At high summer, add some fresh peppers from the garden, maybe some scallions. In just a few weeks, snip some chives to toss in.

Use King Arthur (a Vermont company) white whole wheat flour for a 100% whole grain bread with a lovely texture, which is how I usually make it, but you can also use all-purpose, which is what my aunt used.

In addition to using whole grains, my other variation on her recipe is the fresh corn, usually left over from supper the night before. Local corn you’ve tucked in the freezer last September is perfect, but you can substitute any frozen or canned corn.

My mom added the maple extract because often when you bake with maple, the flavor gets lost in the process, and we do want to taste it. Although we’ve used maple three ways, the flavor is not overpowering, just a nice background note, and the corn flavor still shines through.

I sprinkled just a bit of Vermont cheddar on top to add a nice browned cheese note, no one around here objects to this, and thus we’ve added another local food to our feast.

The recipe is quick and easy. One bowl, one pan and you are a half-hour away from a local, seasonal treat. Serve it on the side, grab it for a snack, or drizzle with a bit more maple syrup and call it breakfast.

Aunt Jeanette’s Yankee maple cornbread

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, or 400 convection, preferred to even browning. You can also use an air fryer with this recipe. Tuck an overhanging sling of parchment paper into a greased pan and grease the paper as well. This will help in remove the bread in one piece for easy cutting.

In a large bowl, combine:
1 cup milk, dairy or plant (I used oat)
1/3 cup dark amber maple syrup
1 tsp. maple extract
2 local eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon maple sugar or white sugar
1/2 stick butter or vegan butter, melted and cooled just slightly

Mix together and add:
1 cup High Meadow Yellow cornmeal or other medium cornmeal
1 cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon non-aluminum baking powder
Scant teaspoon sea salt
1 cup corn kernels, patted dry

Mix only until combined, then add to prepared pan. Top with some grated Vermont cheddar if desired and pop in the oven.

Set the timer for 20 minutes convection, 25 for standard oven, and check with a toothpick. It will probably need five to six more minutes, and if the cheese starts to get too browned, cover with foil.

Once baked, let cool for a few minutes, then lift out of the pan with your little sling. Let cool until your impatience gets the best of you, then cut into 16 pieces. If you are having this for breakfast, a little drizzle of more syrup is highly recommended.