Maple Sugaring in Vermont
Some Sugaring Facts
- It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
- There are 4 grades of syrup: Fancy (lightest and most delicate), Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber and B (strongest flavor, traditionally used for cooking).*
- A gallon of Maple Syrup weighs about 11 lbs.
- The larger the tree the more taps it can sustain, the average tap yields about 10 - 12 gallons of sap per season.
*Vermont now has new grades (mainly to avoid confusing tourists but the locals still use the old system). http://vermontmaple.org/new-grades-come-to-vermont/
Sunday morning pancakes with fresh maple syrup are about as north woods as you can get (excepting maybe fiddle heads sautéed with garlic). Below is a good standby recipe, one that can be tweaked to include cinnamon and nutmeg, berries or nuts.
Easy Pancake Recipe
- 1 Cup All Purpose Flour
- 2 Tablespoons Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Baking Powder
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Egg
- 1 Cup Milk
- 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
- Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
- Add milk, egg and oil and stir until smooth.
- Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat.
- Scoop a 1/4 cup of batter onto the griddle for each pancake.
- Brown on both sides and serve hot with maple syrup.
- NOTE: Recipe makes about 4 servings.
Every spring soft white fog drifted up from the sugar house, smelling of maple and mist and making everything it touched sticky and sweet. Since I was the youngest Grandpa and Frank had dubbed me the official maple syrup taste tester and it was a title I took seriously.
My mother made supper for the men when they were boiling at night and sometimes she let me carry it down the hill to them. I loved going to the sugar house, walking down the muddy path worn deep with the tracks of Sorrel's and muck boots, drawn to the yellow squares of light in the old pane windows and the bright white clouds that billowed out the open door.
My father tended the wood fire under the evaporator at night after he got home from work, and always sat on the same big log by the woodpile, his back against the wall. I could see him through the doorway, his long legs stretched casually out, muddy boots on the dirt and cement floor, the orange light of the fire flickering across his face. He had a little log for me too, a miniature version of his. I would sit and listen to Frank's quiet jokes or sip on my dipper of warm syrup while they ate.
On the back wall behind the cans they kept a row of old metal ladles hanging on nails and beside them buckets of cold water from the stream. All of the kids came in flocks when a new batch was done, floating our silver dippers over the icy water until they were cool enough to drink from, or dumping them straight into the snow to make chewy candy.
I sometimes think Grandpa started the dippers to get free labor, since once the syrup was strained and canned it had to be carried up the hill to the house. Our stomachs full of sugar, we were excited to help. So, warm tin quarts bouncing against our legs we walked happily up to Grandma's kitchen where we were rewarded by being put to work labeling them.
After Grandpa died Frank still boiled and Dad still tended the fire. Now Frank is retired and my Dad sugars with my brother in law, at least until last year when the old boiling pan finally died.
Sugaring never brought in much revenue, in fact my Grandma said they always did it to cover the property taxes and now it doesn't even cover those. Between the taxes and the increase of "gentlemen farmers" moving up from the cities with plenty of money for the latest equipment and advertising, there aren't too many small operations left. Hopefully we'll be able to afford a new pan next year and get started again, after all, we do have all those maple trees just waiting for us...and it's tradition.
A short history of maple sugaring
Native Americans taught early settlers of New England and Canada about sugaring over 300 years ago. The Eastern Woodland Indians Indians made their sugar by slashing the bark of the maple tree then collecting the sap as it dripped out. To hold the sap they hollowed out logs then added heated field stones to make the sap boil; making sugar.
The settlers updated this process by boring holes in the trees instead of slashing them and inserting spouts on which they hung buckets to collect the sap, a process that is still in use today in more rural corners of the north.
However, nowadays, most sugarer's use plastic tubing that attaches to the spout and takes the sap down to the gravity fed collecting tanks. The sap is then transferred to the central storage tank which feeds the evaporator. The evaporator then boils off most of the water, leaving syrup.
In the last few years reverse osmosis has become more common,its institution increasing the yield and decreasing the workload. Unfortunately, the machines cost upwards of $8,000 thus widening the gap even more between the small family operations and the "gentlemen farms" and larger businesses.