I traveled to North Stratford, New Hampshire in May for my annual maple syrup pilgrimage. If you’ve ever heard me talk about maple, then you probably know that it is my preferred form of sugar. What you might not know, however, is the process of how maple syrup is made. Allow me to elaborate:
There are five seasons in New Hampshire. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Mud Season. Never heard of Mud Season? That’s the time of year when all of the winter snow begins to melt–the time when it freezes at night and is above freezing during the day. Those are the conditions necessary for tree sap to run and the only time of year when you can make maple syrup.
Back in the old days, at the beginning of sugar season, a family member would use a bit brace or a hand drill to make a hole in a Sugar maple tree then drive a metal spout in the hole. This spout had a hook on the end where you could hang a bucket and cover. This was called “tapping the tree”. Sap would trickle through the spout and into the bucket. A family might tap anywhere from a handful to a few hundred trees depending on how much syrup they wanted to make and how many kids they had to lend a hand. They usually sent the kids out with a pail to gather the sap. These pails were poured into a pot where the sap was boiled until (at right temperture) it was syrup.
The process has been modernized on the front end for the most part. Most maple producers these days use plastic spouts and miles of plastic tubing to move the sap from their orchards to their holding tank at the sugar house. The sugar house itself has also been modernized, with wood or oil fired evaporators capable of quickly getting the sap to the right temperature and keeping it there. The most modern setups use a reverse osmosis machine to speed up the process, thou some old timers speculate that this might detract from the flavor. They also use a hydrometer to check the density of the sap. When right, it’s syrup. If they keep boiling the sap, it will turn to sugar.
You know how much we love old farming methods here at Crowfoot Farm, right? And if you’re reading this, you probably also believe that the best products are produced on a small scale. The syrup we sell in our farm store and the stuff our own family uses is produced by a close friend of mine named Roger Stinson. Roger gathers his sap in buckets, just like his grandfather did when Roger was a boy. He brings the sap to his small sugar camp deep in the mountains of Coos County New Hampshire. From there, he boils it in a big pan called an evaporator until most the water evaporates. It takes approx. 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
We’ve had several customers ask about the grades of syrup. This is entirely out of the hands of the producers. Light syrup runs early in the season and it gets darker over the course of the run. Toward the end of the season, you get your Dark Amber and Grade B. Grade B, in case you are wondering, is not called as such because of lesser quality. It has more minerals and a stronger maple taste.
So, that’s the story of how your syrup gets from a grove in New Hampshire onto your pancakes or into your coffee. I drove 13+ hours each way to bring it to Virginia, so I’m going to ask you one thing, the same rule I require of my kids. DON’T WASTE IT! Don’t pour more than you will use, and if you finish your pancakes and there’s still a pool of syrup, I expect you to lick the plate.