It’s a special time of year in the North East. All over the place people are bringing out their drills, taps, buckets or lines and boiling equipment to get ready for the earliest harvest of the year. Billions of gallons of watery sap will be collected from maple trees by large companies, small farms and even some adventurous home owners to be boiled, and boiled, and boiled to yield sweet amber syrup.
100% maple syrup is an amazing treat. It’s the best topping for pancakes (obviously), baked apples, roasted sweet potatoes and chicken; I could go on forever. My favorite syrup is grade B or simply put, the dark stuff. It’s thicker and has a much stronger flavor. I’ve never been able to stomach the fake stuff, truth be told, I don’t understand why any one would want it! I remember checking sap buckets on my grandparents farm when I was little (I always felt sad for the ants that fell in the buckets and drown) and for the last 8 years I’ve (somewhat) helped my mother-in-law with her sap collection and boiling.
Of all the farming ventures I’ve been a part of maple syrup has a special place in my heart. There is no way to control the maple season. It comes when it wants, it lasts as long (or short) as it wants and you only get one shot. All the technology in the world can’t make it come earlier or last longer. It’s a truly wild industry. In a world where it seems like every one is obsessing over the next new iphone it’s incredibly refreshing to know that there is something we can’t control with the click of a button. Advancements in the boiling process have shortened the trip from sap to syrup but the basic process remains the same.
In honor of the short and sweet sugaring season here is some maple syrup trivia:
- It takes 30-40 years for a tree to grow large enough to be tapped
- Sap ‘runs’ during the warm early spring days when the temperature is above freezing and the night temperatures drop back below 32 degrees
- It takes 40-45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup
- Vermont makes 7% of the worlds supply of maple syrup
- There is a “Maple Syrup Cartel” in Canada and it was robbed of $18 million worth of syrup in 2011-12
- The syrup season is over when the buds break (open)
- Maple syrup can be boiled further to make maple candy, maple sugar, maple cream, maple butter and other sugary treats
- Maple syrup was used as a sweetener by abolitionists before the Civil War because molasses and cane sugar were made by slaves
- A stand of maple trees tapped for syrup are called a “sugar bush”, the building where the sap is boiled is called a “sugar shack” or “sugar house”