Despite the snow, change is in the air – and it’s scented a sweet, maple fragrance. That’s right – all over New England, sugar shacks are kindling their fires and starting to boil!
So what really is this all about? Very simply, sap flows through maple trees – bringing a mixture of water, sugars and other nutrients to feed the tree. When the sweet mixture starts flowing in early spring, holes are drilled to release the sap. When boiled and reduced we get that sugary, unique maple flavor. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup!
Not surprisingly, Native Americans are credited for discovering the sugaring process. Legend has it that a squaw noticed the clear liquid flowing from a damaged tree. Instead of walking down to the river to retrieve water for the stewpot, she collected the dripping sap. As the meal cooked, the sap reduced and the first syrup was made!
There are four “official” grades of maple syrup – Grade A Light Amber (once called “Fancy”), Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B. Usually Grade A Light is made at the beginning of the season and the syrup darkens continually through the season. As the color darkens, the maple flavor intensifies. Once upon a time, the lighter grades were preferred as table syrup, but tastes are changing and many homes covet the dark Grade B. It’s definitely the favorite at our house!
Over the weekend we had our first boil. It’s a lot of work trudging through the wet heavy snow, collecting sap buckets. Then there’s the never ending job of cutting, splitting and hauling wood for the fire. It’s totally worth it though when we start bottling that lovely liquid gold! Move over Aunt Jemima! Real maple syrup is where it’s at!