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Friday, February 15, 2008

Sugaring Off Time - Maple Syrup

See this maple tree with the metal buckets hanging off it? This is where your maple syrup comes from. Not all of it, just some of it. There’s other trees around with buckets on them, too.

Tapping trees for sap to boil into syrup was something the Native American people devised, and later taken up by European settlers in the northeast as a way to produce a local sugar crop. Tapping these days begins earlier, due to either a temporary cycle of warmer temperatures or possibly long-term global warming. Traditionally begun in March and lasting for several weeks, this annual harvest of maple tree sap often begins for many farmers in February now.

Several weeks of below-freezing temperatures, and then a period of cold nights accompanied by warmer days is necessary to create the perfect conditions for making sap. Some farmers are taping even earlier than February, and many are using plastic tubing rather than buckets to collect the sap.

Vermont produces the most syrup, followed by Maine, then New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

It’s a labor-intensive process, where it takes about 40 gallons of sap to boil down into one gallon or pure syrup. Sugar shacks, where this process takes places, are very popular places to visit this time of year, with many farmers attracting tourists by opening sugar houses, demonstrating the work, and selling the various products made from their syrup.

If you buy syrup for your pancakes, make sure it’s the real stuff, not imitation. And make sure it’s from New England. Just because.

Been there? Done that? Ate all the leaf-shaped maple sugar candy in the car on the ride home? Let us know.

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