Saturday, March 21, 2015

Best of AM - Going to the Dark Side

Am I going to the dark side?  In a way.  But not in a Star Wars way.  I am talking maple and a trip to the Dark Side, repeating (with a couple of updates) a post from late March, 2014.

This weekend is the first of two Maple Weekends here in upstate New York.

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.

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. Thank you for the interesting facts about how maple syrup is made. I thought it came from the tree in the end product form, like honey from a beehive. I've never tried the dark side of the syrup. It's too expensive for me to buy here in the UK. I'll stick to squeezing honey on my porridge.

  2. I don't know anyone who taps there tree for Maple syrup. But I like real maple syrup not that stuff made out for corn syrup and add flavor.
    We have a maple we would like to tap.
    Coffee is on

  3. I have always liked the darker the better when it comes to syrup. I went on a food themed trip to Vermont. I must have tried 30 or40 different types in a week. Sugar high was never so good.

  4. Oh this is so wonderful! I was just noticing that there are some places that allow people to come and do this! I think my kids and family would love this experience--and the yumminess that comes with it! (*Love your version of the dark side! :))

  5. Maple syrup is good, and yes very popular up here! I am from Minnesota. Tons of trees. :)

  6. This brings back memories of my grandfather's "maple sugar" camp, as we called it. Many times we would visit during sap-gathering time and help as best we could. He showed us how to make "maple snow" candy - drizzling just a little bit of sap over a mug of clean snow and it would harden so quickly, it ended up almost like taffy. Thanks for sharing!


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