Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - Got Maple Syrup?

This weekend and next is Maple Weekend in upstate New York.  Maple syruping is a family farm industry here in upstate New York, and producers take this opportunity to show consumers all the work that it takes to make maple syrup.

These farms don't just make maple syrup.

They make maple jam, maple candy, and even maple cotton candy.

But, due to our severe winter temperatures, the syruping is being delayed.  Sap is not running.  And sap is needed, to boil down into the prized syrup.

The weather has to be perfect - above freezing days with sunshine, below freezing nights.

Last March, I wrote the below post (slightly edited) during a successful Maple Weekend. There won't be much to show this weekend. Let's hope next weekend, the second and last Maple Weekend, will be more of a success.

Sustainable Saturday - The Sweetness of Local Maple

It's late winter spring.  It's time to make maple syrup in upstate New York.

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.

Welcome to Nappy Farms, near Johnson City, New York.

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.

This is the evaporator.  On the right, the sap enters and there is a preheater (not run by wood) that will partially evaporate the sap.  This will allow more efficient use of the wood.  This producer goes through about a cord of wood a day, which comes from his property.

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.
This is the cast iron end of the evaporator, which was manufactured in Canada.

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?


  1. Wow so much goes into making this awesome syrup. I was lucky and a friend brought me back a bottle from her vacation In US.

  2. This is not good news. I LOVE maple syrup. I don't know whether the stuff that gets exported to the UK would be considered 'real', but I do know that it's £5.50 for a tiny bottle already..

  3. That maple cotton candy sounds unique! Very cool post.

  4. I'm a terrible Canadian--I can't stand maple flavoured stuff! But it was always a cool field trip when I was a kid to go to the Sugar Bush and see how they make maple syrup and collect the sap etc. It's a big industry and there's a lot that goes into it!

  5. I ate Maple syrup on grits every morning when we stayed in Fort Lauderdale about 6 years ago. I loved it. Here in England, it's sooo expensive. I'd love to sample the Maple syrup condensed over a wood fire. Sounds amazing.
    I have to content myself with honey on my porridge every morning in this green and pleasant land.

  6. Maple cotton candy? Now that sounds yummy! I love maple syrup; it's so much nicer than golden syrup! :)


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