I'm talking maple syrup, not that stuff that passes as "pancake syrup". The latter should be banned from all tables although I realize, first, that true maple syrup is expensive, and second, that some regions of the United States prefer their own regional specialties - cane syrup, sorghum syrup, etc. But at least, cane syrup and sorghum syrup are natural products.
To someone from New York State or New England, only maple syrup will do. And not those thin, Grade A light amber syrups. You want Dark Amber syrup, the syrup that has flavor. Or even Grade B, although the heavy maple taste of Grade B makes it suitable mainly for cooking. (note, these grades are NY grades, and may differ in other maple syruping states).
Have you ever been to a sugar house? If not, I have a sweet treat for you today.
Nappy Farms, near Johnson City, New York.
Today is the second and last weekend of New York's Maple Weekend. We've been out of town the last couple of years, but this time we were able to go to a producer only a few miles from our house.
Let's take you inside the building where maple syrup is made.
We were greeted by goats, who are pets and were quite friendly. Chickens were also roaming around.
I didn't want to walk into the woods (snow a bit slippery) to visit the sugar bush, but several types of maple trees can be tapped. What you are doing, in maple syrup making, is similar to what native Americans did hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Only the technology has changed.
When the sap starts to run in late winter, the trees are tapped. The sap is collected and is then evaporated. What is left, after water (lots and lots of water) is boiled off, is maple syrup. Pure sap (which I have tasted) is like water, both in consistency, and in taste.
Weather conditions must be right. In fact, this morning, the sap was not running because it was too cold. The ideal is above freezing during the day, and below freezing at night.
In modern day production, lines from the tapped trees bring sap into the building, and then the magic begins.
Maple syrup made with wood heat has a special taste and this is what you really want to look for. Syrup sold in supermarkets may be real but there may be no wood in its production and you will know the difference.
When done, the syrup rests in a container, and is then bottled.
Part of the fun of Maple Weekend is the sampling - and we got to sample the dark syrup from a recent run, plus maple mustard (all natural ingredients), maple nuts and even maple popcorn. Maple cotton candy was available for sale.
Once trees start to bud out, the season is over, and the taps must be removed to prevent damage to the trees. This year, sadly, is not looking to be a good year - it has been too cold during the sap run. Nature's clock is ticking and the trees will bud out sometime in April, "weather" or not. Then the trees leaf out happily, and are hopefully around for next winter's syrup run. And, at the end of their lives (Nappy uses mainly down trees), they serve as fuel for the next year's run.
On the way out, our purchase in hand, we said goodbye to the chickens - mainly Rhode Island Reds, and an unknown rooster. Their eggs will be waiting for us when the Otsiningo Farmers Market resumes its outdoor season in April.
Does your home area have its own specialty food not made in other areas?