Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sustainable Saturday-Going To the Dark Side

Today, for the second Saturday in the row, I am talking maple and a trip to the Dark Side.

Here is a Maple Weekend visit to a local maple syrup producer here in upstate New York.   Last Saturday, I wrote more about maple syrup.

We are fortunate to live in maple syrup country, because, for me, nothing else will ever touch my pancakes.  And, of all maple syrup, I think the best is that produced using wood fired evaporators.  They give a special taste that just can't be duplicated.

This producer, Bush's Syrup House, uses the wood fired method. 

Making maple syrup is an art.  There is a brief period of time at the end of winter when maple trees start to wake from their winter hibernation. Sap, clear and not very sweet at all, starts to flow.  The days must be above freezing and, preferably, sunny.  The nights must be below freezing.  These conditions produce a push-pull condition in the trees, causing the sap to flow.  Producers tap the trees, attach a bucket (involving judgement as to how many taps a tree can support) and collect the sap through tubes that lead to the processing house.

Some people drink the sap for health reasons.  I've sampled it and it isn't much different from water.  The magic comes later, after the evaporation process.  And, it's quite a process, with 40 parts of maple sap needed for 1 part of maple syrup.  That's a lot of sap, and a lot of heat source needed.  And all of that takes money and a continued investment on the part of the maple syrup producer.

The season lasts about 4-6 weeks.  When the trees start to bud, or temperatures remain above freezing, the sap turns bitter and the season is over.

At the beginning of the season, the sap produces a light syrup which is the most expensive to buy. Toward the end of the season, you get darker syrup.  In our part of upstate New York, we prefer the darker (not the darkest grade B, suitable more for cooking, but what we call Dark Amber) for our pancakes.  In maple syrup, you want to go to the dark side. It's the one product where Grade B is better than Grade A (noting the NY grade scales differ from some other states.)

Today, Bush's was producing dark syrup but it wasn't yet bottled or available for sale.

This is the barn with the evaporator.
The wood fired evaporator.
The syrup tank.

A display of maple candy molds and old fashioned taps (some dating from the 1700's).

After our look around, we walked into the sugar house to buy some syrup.  You may blanch at the $45 a gallon price Bush's was charging.  But, consider the amount of work that goes into the production of maple syrup.The only syrup available was medium amber from earlier in the season.  Knowing we were having a poor season, we bought a quart ($18), hoping we could get some dark amber syrup later in the year.

Right behind us, another couple was looking for dark amber, too.

As reported last week, our maple syrup season will not be one of the more successful, due to our extended, cold winter.  

Can you make maple syrup at home?  Yes! (if you have the right kind of trees, that is.)  I worked with someone, years ago, whose husband  made syrup and, one year, offered it to sale. He totally sold out to his wife's co workers, including me.  I've never had better syrup before or since.  Just don't try the boiling in your kitchen - you will ruin your wallpaper.

With health concerns about manufactured pancake syrup now arising (from the substance used to give it brown color), more people may, despite the cost, be searching for real maple syrup.

Is maple syrup popular in your area?


  1. What a fun adventure! If i'm ever in that area I will be sure to check it out!

  2. I have many very fond memories of the Sugar Shacks, both from Nova Scotia and Quebec, Canada. Maple Sugar, Maple Syrup, Maple Candy, snow cones dipped in syrup. Mmmm. I miss that. Thanks for the article. It was a fun read. Peace

  3. I don't think any here taps there maple trees.

    Coffee is on

  4. I like real maple syrup! It's expensive in most stores, but it doesn't give me heartburn like the fake stuff so it's worth it. And maple-covered nuts are so yummy I order them online. (Can't find them here any more.)

  5. I really appreciate the facts of producing the maple syrup even though I'll never get the chance here in England. I didn't realize the sap is originally like water. I thought you drained a substance like honey. That would be too easy.

  6. I don't think maple syrup is as popular in the UK. However, we always have some in for Shrove Tuesday! :)

  7. Oh, yes, the people who care about what they eat, eat the real maple syrup, and there is a family from Wisconsin who travel down to our farmer's market one week every summer, with real maple syrup. We all stock up then! Neat post, Alana, and great photos!


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