So, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we recently found a bottle of maple flavoring at the Amish market down the road, after having searched in vain for it at all the other stores in our area (and out of our area) for more than a year. (Actually, the stuff I really wanted was "pure maple extract," which seems to be impossible to get anywhere; the stuff we found contains "natural and artificial flavor," but it smells and tastes reasonably maple-y, and I'm not inclined to be picky at this point.) The reason I particularly wanted it was so that I could try whipping up a batch of homemade pancake syrup, using the recipe from The Complete Tightwad Gazette. We are kind of syrup snobs, and we've always eschewed the store-brand pancake syrup in favor of pure maple syrup—generally stocking up on it at BJ's whenever we get a free day pass, as that's where it's cheapest. But even there, it now costs more than $14 a quart, so we figured it was worth investing four bucks in a bottle of maple extract to give the homemade stuff a try.
So, last weekend I made a small test batch, and I can report that while it's not absolutely indistinguishable from Grade-A maple syrup, it's so close that we probably wouldn't notice the difference if we didn't know it was fake. It's a bit thinner, and it doesn't have quite as rich a maple flavor to it, but the difference is so subtle that I could only detect it when I tasted them side by side. It's definitely closer to real maple syrup than the store-bought stuff.
The recipe I used was submitted by a Tightwad Gazette reader, who presumably won't mind if I reprint it. It's very easy: In a pot, combine 3 cups granulated sugar, 1 1/2 cups water, 3 Tbsp. molasses, 1 tsp. each vanilla and maple extract, and 2 tsp. butter flavoring (we left this out; if I want my pancakes to taste like butter, I'll put butter on them). Bring it to a "good rolling boil," stirring until sugar dissolves; turn off heat and leave pot on burner until bubbling stops.
Here's my cost breakdown for the ingredients:
Organic sugar, 3 cups: $2.10
Water: essentially free
Organic blackstrap molasses, from bulk bin, 3 Tbsp.: 6 cents
Homemade vanilla extract (made from organic vanilla beans and cheap vodka), 1 tsp.: 10 cents
Maple flavoring, 1 tsp.: 33 cents
Total: $2.59 for about 30 fluid ounces, which works out to about $2.77 a quart—less than one-fifth the cost of real maple syrup, even made with organic ingredients. Maybe not quite as cheap as the store-brand stuff, but soooo much better. :-9