One thing that I remember is that it took hundreds of buckets of clear sugary liquid being poured into a large vat under which a log fire caused the liquid to boil. As it boiled and reduced, the liquid turned golden in color. When it got just right, the fire was put out and the liquid cooled for eventual transfer to jars and bottles. Maple syrup is expensive these days as it is a product of much labor and shrinking natural resources.
“U.S. maple sugaring season gets running early
Snow on ground helps and hinders sap-seeking tree tappers
msnbc.com news services
ASHFIELD, Mass. — The sugar maple trees are tapped and their rich sap is starting to drain into buckets across New England and elsewhere, as a midwinter thaw heralds the start of the fleeting syrup production season.
But challenges loom for harvesters, racing against time and the elements to gather enough sap to boil into the sweet delicacy, first cultivated centuries ago by Native American communities.
Despite the thaw, snow piles of three feet in the northern woods and high snowbanks along back roads after the stormy January have complicated the start of sugaring season.
The need to strap on bulky snowshoes or fire up snowmobiles to set taps and haul away sap in the widespread maple groves has slowed them down a bit, producers say. But it also helps.
Fountain of Spring Hill Sugarhouse in Richmond, R.I., told the Providence Journal. "It insulates the ground, so the roots of the trees are not frozen. Any day we get temperatures above freezing the sap runs vigorously."
If setting-up is delayed for what is a mere four-to six-week season, and temperatures become too warm, too fast, sugaring can seem like it is ending before it begins, experts say.
Harvesters need an extended pattern of mild days and chilly nights for the sap to run.
"It means getting started earlier than you normally would, because it is going to take a lot of time in the woods," said Brian Stowe, head of sugaring operations at the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center, in Underhill Center.
Tapping extends well beyond New England, including Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Wisconsin. A few examples:
Indiana: The state is home to about 100 maple syrup producers. Saturday is tapping day at Bendix Woods County Park in New Carlisle, Ind., where volunteers are sought to help get the Sugar Bush ready for maple syrup. On March 19 and 20, the community holds Sugar Camp Days that includes demonstrations on making maple syrup. The Elkhart County, Ind., Parks Dept. will host a similar program March 5. Medora holds it annual National Maple Syrup Festival the first two weekends in March.
New Jersey: The Tenafly Nature Center will show visitors Feb. 27 how to identify a maple tree, the history of syrup making, how technology has changed the gathering of sap over the centuries, and how to make fresh warm maple syrup. The Somerset County Park Commission holds 90-minute programs on February weekends that also show sap collecting methods and syrup boiling process.
Maryland: About 30 syrup makers are clustered around the mountains and valleys of Deep Creek lake in the western part of the state, The Washington Post reported. Steyer Brothers Farm, the oldest and largest producer in western Maryland, makes about 1,000 gallons of syrup in a good year. The farm has 8,500 taps for maple sap on 100 acres and uses 35 miles of tubing in the process of making maple syrup, the Cumberland Times-News says.
To produce syrup, a traditional favorite topping for pancakes or waffles, the purest sap is boiled until it concentrates into an amber nectar. About 40 gallons of sap makes a gallon of maple syrup. If sap contains 5 percent sugar, it takes 17.3 gallons to make a gallon of syrup, according to mapleresource.com; at 1 percent sugar, more than 86 gallons of sap are needed.
Maple syrup retails for anywhere from $33 to $62 per gallon.
Slow start in New England
In Vermont, the biggest U.S. maple syrup producer, snowfall this year hit its highest since 2001, Stowe said.
"I've heard a lot of people say that they are a little bit behind this year on tapping," he said.
Vermont produced a whopping 890,000 gallons of maple syrup last year, nearly half of the nation's total haul of 1.96 million gallons.
Further south in Massachusetts, hopes are high for a major turnaround after a dismal 2010 season, figured as the worst on record in many counties. Temperatures warmed too quickly last year, slashing the sap run to just three weeks.
"It's pretty easy for people to feel that this year's going to be better than last year," said Tom McCrumm, owner of South Face Farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts.
The state's output in 2010 plunged 37 percent from the prior year to just 29,000 gallons.
"Last year was a disaster, so it couldn't be any worse," McCrumm said. "An average season this year would be 20 to 50 percent better."
Aside from weather, the pesky Asian longhorned beetle, brought to North America from China, has plagued native U.S. hardwood trees, including sugar maples, in Massachusetts and New York, the nation's second-largest syrup producer.
The insects are remarkably destructive to trees as they bore holes in the bark to deposit their eggs.
In Maine, the third-largest syrup producer, experts fret less about the snow and the beetles than they do about the unpredictability of February-to-April temperatures.
"Larger producers get started early, because with a big sugarbush (maple orchard), you have to get at it early on," said Kathy Hopkins with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Skowhegan. "So a lot of places are tapped and ready to go."
Reuters and msnbc.com contributed to this story.”