Sugaring Time in New England—March 2010
Sugaring Time in New England—Fun Places
Sugar’s sweet, but sap is sappier;
So begins nature’s sweetest of sweets. Native Americans called the first full moon in March the “Sap Moon”. Both of the great eastern nations—the Algonquian and the Iroquois—knew the land that became Vermont. No one is certain how tapping of trees for the sap evolved, but what we do know is that the Native Americans taught the first settlers how to tap trees for the sap and cook it down. We also know that it was an important ingredient to the Native Americans' way of cooking. Add a little maple syrup to a pot of maize and ensconce yourself in the flavors.
Some maple trees that are tapped are gravity fed from plastic tubing, but others find the labor intensive way of hanging buckets to acquire the sap more fruitful. It would depend mainly upon the number of taps that are being distributed. It is not unusual to see 2,500+ taps put out by a sugar house as the process of collecting what is often referred to as “Vermont Gold” begins. There are many states that tap trees today, but only a few produce as much syrup as Vermont.
Trees suitable for tapping are any of the family of maple trees, but anyone will tell you that the Sugar Maple produces the highest concentration of sugar. Affecting that concentration is the temperature and the health of the tree. Trees that are tapped need to be at least 1 ½ feet in diameter, have a healthy top and full sun exposure. The sap from the trees only “runs” from the roots into the upper parts of the tree and the flow does not begin until after a time of hard freeze, followed by several sunny days with temperatures in the 40s. The flow of sap is highly dependent upon weather conditions, with the peak flow occurring early in the sugaring season. The flow will stop when daytime temperatures do not go above freezing, or when night temperatures do not go below freezing. The flow usually lasts roughly three to four weeks, but becomes the harbinger of spring.
Maple sap, as it drips from the tree, is a clear liquid containing about 2% dissolved sugar. It looks just like water, and has a very slight sweet taste. The true maple flavor comes out as part of the heating and boiling process. Sap is made into syrup by boiling off water, which increases the sugar content and causes chemical changes that darken the syrup and provide its characteristic taste. Depending on the sweetness of the sap, it can take anywhere from 25-75 gallons of raw sap to make a gallon of finished syrup. The usual amount is about 40 gallons to one gallon.
Maple syrup is graded according to the color and flavor. Is one better than the other? It is just a matter of personal taste much like beer or wine. The grades are Grade A light, medium and dark amber and Grade B. No matter which you prefer pure maple syrup is better than the fake stuff by any stretch of the imagination! So if you are in a state that produces maple syrup stop by the sugar house and ask for a tour and a taste.