How wonderful are the warm days where the sun shines and you can go outside wearing a light jacket instead of your arctic parka. There are still cold nights that crust up the puddles until the sun breaks the ice again in the morning. Red-winged blackbirds can be heard making their familiar “conk-la-ree!” from the field and marsh. Snow geese turning brown farm fields into patches of moving whiteness as they land to rest on their journey north.
These are all my favorite signs that it is time; time for an ancient flow of nature to begin. The flow of sap back into the mighty maple trees. It is sugaring time!
Every year, without regard to humankind, nature begins the process of replenishing the trees, sending sap forth through the trees’ veins to help feed it for the growing season. In some trees, this sap can be harvested for its sweetness and flavor. Sugar maples, walnuts, and birch are three that produce sap used by humans to enrich their diets with taste and nutrition. Well, mostly taste! Many know the sweetness of the sap from sugar maples. But few have tasted the bitter nutty flavor of walnut or the slightly sweet licorice flavor from birch. The walnut and birch trees do not provide as much syrup from their sap as the sugar maples do. Syrup producers charge a lot more for these syrups if they even bother with it.
But the sugar maple is prolific and most used for syrup production from trees. In March we expect the sap to begin flowing and we see the old cans hanging on the side of a tree for the traditionalists, or the familiar webs of blue tubing throughout a sugarbush using more modern technology. Family and friends gather to collect the sap and fire up the evaporator to boil the water out of the sap. Slowly, the “mapley” sweetness collects as the water turns to gas and floats off into the steamy atmosphere around the evaporator. You’ll know the sugar house is cooking when a plume of steam is coming out the pipe on the roof. If you are fortunate, you’ll be downwind and catch the maple fragrance wafting from the steam.
If you are crazy, do what I did one time and collect sap from the maples in your yard. Then try boiling the sap on the stove in your house. This really is NOT recommended but I needed to try it anyway… My home smelled delicious for a while but sometimes wallpaper will peel away from the wall because of the excessive humidity. Your windows will drip from the steam, and your spouse will likely become unhappy with the constant boiling on the stove and mess what you’re cooking up.
Better than making your spouse unhappy, you normally could participate in Maple Weekend, an annual celebration that lasts two weekends. During maple weekend, many of the larger sugar houses will open their doors to the public and provide demonstrations, samples, and products to purchase. In 2021, as we are still in recovery mode from the COVID – 19 pandemic, the official Maple Weekend has been canceled for public safety. But, there are individual maple producers who are providing some variations of Maple Weekend for their particular operation. Some may be doing drive-through, online ordering for take-out, limited capacity safe accommodation of socially distanced customers and visits by reservations. We highly encourage you to take advantage of these offerings! Maple trees work hard to produce enough sap to supply your taste buds. Do not disappoint the trees or your taste buds!
To find out if there is a maple syrup producer operating near you who is providing some level of service to the public this year, I highly recommend you visit https://nysmaple.com/buy-local/ . This takes you to an interactive map where you can search for maple syrup producers across the state who are offering some level of service to the public. I told the map I wanted to search within 50 miles of my location here in Watertown. Over 60 locations popped up on the map with contact information!
While COVID may have shut down the big official celebration of Maple Weekend, don’t let it shut you down. Check these sugar houses out and go get some of Mother Nature’s spring sweetness. I highly recommend you put a teaspoon or two, or three of maple syrup in a cold glass of milk and enjoy!!! We consume more maple syrup this way in our house than other method of consumption. Well, I do slather quite a bit on chicken halves just before I finish grilling them on a bed of hot coals. Enjoy!