A Convoy of Flavor Wheels

A couple of winters ago I made made my own maple syrup in Vermont. It started out more as a reminiscence of when my Dad would do it, tediously cooking down the sap over the two burners of a Coleman stove. Or maybe it was to relive the childhood smell memories of wood smoke and tree sugar forged in local sugarhouses. It is almost sugaring time again and that reminded me of something peculiar that happened when making that syrup last time.

It didn’t taste like maple syrup. It tasted wonderful, but nothing like what a New Englander would call essentially maple. Then I remembered the maple syrup flavor wheel I saw on the wall at Bascom’s, the place I’d bought the used sap buckets, lids, spouts, a razor sharp drill bit, and a hydrometer.

I saw that wheel from a distance and thought to myself, “C’mon, how many flavors can maple syrup really have?” I looked closely at it. There was mention of clove, smoke, molasses, forest humus, dried herbs, plastic, you name it. It wasn’t until I had that sap boiling – this was sap that only ran for two days before cold weather stopped the flow for anther few weeks – that I became aware of a corn-syrupy aroma. It was definitely corn. Then I discerned lightly toasted marshmallows, vanilla, and cocoa powder. Everything was clean. I hadn’t made candy or cake in any pots. It was the syrup made from the earliest runnings of sap from my trees that grew in a certain place on shallow soil atop slate ledges made of fossilized Lake Hitchcock clays, those clays made of the fine, fluvial residues of glacial till. I was befuddled – there was no trace of maple.

So here’s that flavor wheel, courtesy of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The way my mind works, or doesn’t on a given day, naturally leads me to think about other flavor wheels. Sadly, the first thing to pop up was “whatever happened to Flavor Flav?” The rapper with big clock around his neck.

I don’t know if he likes maple syrup. Hard to believe, but true, I’ve met people who don’t like the taste of real maple syrup having been brought up on the artificial kind. Flavor Flav has all that gold dentistry. It’s called a grill in case you missed that one on TV.


Grillin' 'n chillin' with Flavor Flav. Take that Bobby Flay. (Source: http://www.themoderndaypirates.com)

Slightly more seriously, I began to think about all of the other flavor wheels out there. One I use regularly is Dr. Morton Meilgaard’s beer flavor wheel, though I admit that it isn’t as robust as I wish it were. It doesn’t list “deteriorating vinyl from the dashboard of an ’87 Buick driven by a four-pack-a-day smoker of menthols” or “burnt hair caught fire in the bunsen burner when she leaned too close to her lab partner.” But I’d say it is normally adequate.

There are flavor wheels for wine, cheese, tea, cannabis… all sorts of things. In fact, I’m inspired to start collecting as many flavor wheels as I can.

Here’s a good one for coffee, from gourmet-coffee.com.

And another fun one for chocolate from Chocolopolis. It is a little hard to read on the light background, however.

And the last one for today, also hard to read on a light background, is the Cognac Aroma Wheel from Cognac.com. It is arranged by season of the year. Ahhh. Cheers! TPJ


Pears Poached in Cherry Lambic

Just returning home from the Great American Beer Festival I had to know: Were my pears ripened? If you’ve ever grown a garden or fruit trees you know the anxiety that comes with travel. Did the birds/rabbits/squirrels/deer get them? Was there a hailstorm or a frost? Is all well in my little Eden?

And… there they were, just yellowing, huge, heavy, aromatic, sweet. This calls for something special, I thought – poached pears in kriek!

Cheery, cherry lambic, commonly called kriek (Ned.) or cherise (Fr.) is one of the most wonderful and surprising of wheat beers. Fruit lambics are pleasingly lactic-sour, opulently fruity, and may range in yeast-driven flavors from straight-ahead sweet-tart to farmhouse funky. Because of their ingredients and extended aging lambics have lost all trace of hop aroma and bitterness. They showcase complex expressions of wild yeasts and souring bacteria, and yet they retain a certain amount of mouthfeel from the 30-40 percent raw wheat used in the grist. Many have characterized lambics as the most wine-like of beers, but I’m confident most oenophiles would balk at their first taste of a true lambic.

It is this very wine-like aspect that inspired me to take the traditional dessert of pears poached in wine and retool it for lambic. Among the lambics, kriek is closest to the colors and flavors of red wine. In fact, after several years of aging, the cherries become less distinct; the brew takes on a dark fruit melange and effervescence that might be similar to a pinot noir wine cooler.

Poached Pears in Kriek!

Ingredients for 8 Servings

  • 8 ea    Bosc pears, sub. Bartlett or Anjou
  • 4 ea    star anise
  • 1 ea    orange, juiced
  • 1 cup    sugar
  • 1 bottle    kriek, 750 ml
  • 1 cup    whipping cream
  • 3 tbsp    orange liqueur or cognac
  • 3 tbsp    powdered sugar, divided
  • 8 ea    mint leaves
  • 8 or 16 ea    almond cookies


Advance Preparation. In a pan large enough to hold all of the pears laying on their sides (e.g. 4-quart saucepan), combine whole star anise, juice of orange, sugar, and kriek. Heat the mixture over medium heat to dissolve sugar and infuse spice. Keep warm.

While the kriek mixture is heating, peel the pears from top to bottom leaving alternating strips of peel attached to create a striped effect. Leave the stem intact. Trim the bottom slightly so pears will stand upright. Place pears on their sides in the warm kriek mixture, cover, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, turning the pears halfway through and basting frequently. Pears are done when still firm and a sharp knife penetrates readily. Remove the pears and set them upright in a rimmed dish to cool.

Reduce remaining poaching liquid over medium heat until the consistency of a light syrup, to about 2/3 cup, then strain to remove solids.  Cover and refrigerate pears and sauce separately until serving (up to 2 days).

Assembly. Whip the cream in a cold, clean stainless bowl until soft peak stage. Add the liqueur and 1 tablespoon of the powdered sugar and whip until stiff peaks form. Place a pear on each serving plate, drizzle 2-3 teaspoons of sauce on and around each pear. Using the tip of a toothpick, make a small hole in the pear right at the stem and push the stem of a mint leaf into the hole. Place or pipe a dollop of whipped cream beside the pear, dust with powdered sugar and arrange one or two almond cookies on the plate.

There’s an old saying in restaurants, that people always remember the dessert. If you take the time to prepare this fabulous fall treat for your friends or family, trust me, they will remember it! Cheers! TPJ

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