It’s called the “sugaring season”- those few weeks in late March, early April every year when the sap runs from the maple trees and conditions are perfect for making maple syrup. At Fairweather Farms where I’m visiting this year, the harvest is an annual labor of love, and a sweet, natural phenomena that inspired a closer look.
The whole process is triggered by the pressure inside the trees as the weather warms. When a pattern of freezing and thawing temperatures takes hold, it makes the internal pressure inside the trees build up, causing the sap to flow. My sister makes it as a hobby, and taps 12-15 trees every year (with help), and then, cooks and bottles it, earning her the official title of the “Sugarmaker”.
Once the maple trees are drilled- very carefully- with tiny holes in just the right spots, the 5 gallon buckets fill quickly, especially while the nights are still cold. Some trees can produce over a gallon of sap in a day, which is good, because it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup. And, in order to get the right kind of sap for the best syrup, the nights have to be in the 20s, with days warming up to 40 degrees.
It starts out as one sweet, slowww harvest.
Now, everything’s in place for making/processing about 50 gallons of sap, and the famous “Evaporator” is rolled out of the garage, and a fire is started. A giant open pan resting atop its wood burning heat source, this particular evaporator holds over 50 gallons of sap, which needs to be boiled over a hot fire for a very, very long time, until it reaches a temperature of 219 degrees (the temperature for making candy).
Hot-burning wood is the key, and not all wood burns the same temperature. Sounds crazy, but If the fire isn’t hot enough, it can add hours to the process, which necessitates cooking the brew late into the evening, and babysitting the evaporator until the temperature’s finally achieved- an endurance easily softened with maple syrup cocktails.
When the sap finally reaches 219, degrees it’s already started to thicken and turn a golden brown.
Now it’s ready to be filtered.
And then, things get really sticky!
Filtering is critical in order to remove what’s called
“sugar sand” so the final syrup is clear and not cloudy.
My sister finds coffee filters do the trick,
and it’s poured back into the same pots.
Afterward, it’s cooked down even further
until it really thickens. Finally, it’s ready
to be bottled. Pre-sterilized bottles are
lined up and ready to receive the deep golden
brown slow flowing fresh syrup. A color determination is made, and this batch appears to be a Grade A Medium to Dark Amber, according to the new grading system, in which, the deeper the color, the stronger the taste and also, the later in the year it was produced.
(This grading was recently updated to make the US and Canadian systems consistent. The old system used Fancy and Grade A to indicate syrups with lighter flavors and colors,
and used Grade B to indicate a darker and more robust syrup.)
Under the new system, everything is Grade A, but descriptions
have been added.
The lightest syrup is now “Grade A: Golden Color with
Delicate Taste” and the darkest
is “Grade A: Very Dark with Strong Taste.”
Finally, it was my chance to add some stickiness
of a different sort…
Clearly there was a need, so I was eager to get down to the business of creating a label (which is right up my alley!)
But first, I had to discuss the approach with
the one who really runs the place (shown here in
a colored pencil drawing I did as a pup. Not me, the dog!)
Some top level meetings sealed the deal.
Hanging on the wall was an old sepia photo of Fairweather Farms that I used in the background, so I could feature ‘the boss’ in some proper context.
My sister is prolific with her garden, home and bath products that she makes as gifts
and, I wanted the label design to work on her other creations too- of which there are many!
I found some 2.5 inch round blank labels online that were perfect, and fit on everything, allowing a small space at the bottom were she could hand write what it was, if needed. I whipped out my laptop and assembled it in Adobe, and after some bark and forth, we settled on this design. Thank goodness for those maple bacon rawhide strips that sped negotiations right along with this very tough client!
Pure Maple Syrup is overflowing with health benefits.
Loaded with antioxidants, (over 24) pure maple syrup also has high levels of zinc and manganese.It’s one of the purest sweeteners out there, compared to white or brown sugar, honey and agave, and much better for you than processed sweeteners. And it has a lowerglycemic index than sugar. Maple syrup helps fight inflammatory diseases. It protects skin health, and makes a great hydrating skin mask along with raw milk or yogurt, rolled oats and raw honey.
All that and, new studies are finding it also protects against the kind of neurodegenerative damage found in Alzheimer’s disease, so I’m pouring it on!
My Own Maple Mania!
The sweet smell of maple syrup brings back childhood memories for me of a big breakfast in a nice warm kitchen with everyone…fresh pancakes, scrambled eggs, and french toast drizzled with syrup and melted butter. And it’s still the first thing that comes to mind, but breakfast is just the beginning. There are all sorts of ways to use, and love maple syrup in all kinds of foods. From roasted vegetables, to baked chicken,dumplings, cheesecake, ice cream sundaes and even maple martinis,
it adds a distinct and gentle flavor to dishes that I’m finding for the first time.
You can pour it over scrambled eggs, or mix it with balsamic vinegar for a simple salad dressing that’s pretty fabulous!
Maple Mustard Balsamic Dressing:
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T Dijon Vinegar
2T Maple Syrup
8T olive oil
I’m completely inspired and I’ll never look at pure maple syrup the same way.
For that, I’m grateful and enriched.
Next time, a few of the most unique maple syrup recipes ever!