It's maple syrup time! One of my favorite signs of spring is seeing sap buckets hanging on maple trees around our small town of Dublin, New Hampshire. The buckets are everywhere—at the local school, in neighbors’ woods, and along the road.
When I drive by one of our local sugarhouses, Morning Star Maple, and see steam billowing, I know that they’re boiling the sap. I quickly pull over and walk in for a free tasting of liquid gold. Last week, I stopped by for a new jug of syrup and chatted with the owner, Karen.
Maple Syrup Weather
Sugar’s sweet, but sap is sappier;
Cold nights make the farmers happier!
–The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 1989
I asked Karen how the season was going. She said, “Starting early and ending early.” As the quote above states, you need cold nights to make “sugarers” happy, and the winter weather has been unseasonably warm. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good sugaring season this year for many of our neighbors.
Maple trees are tapped when temperatures alternate between freezing and thawing. Nighttime temperatures must drop below freezing (in the 20s), and daytime temperatures must reach 40 to 50 degrees. Before winter, the maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots, which gets converted into sugar. As spring nears, the sap thaws and the sugar in the sap rises up the tree.
When I expressed my sympathies to Karen, she simply shrugged in a no-nonsense way and said, “Some seasons are good, some aren’t. Last year was our best season in 25 years. Agriculture's not for wimps!” She’s clearly been in the maple syrup business a long time and weathered the ups and downs.
How You Tap a Tree
Do all trees produce sap? Karen says that they do, but “it’s the sugar maple that has the highest content of sugar in the sap.” They’ll tap some red maples, too.
There are many ways to tap trees to allow the sap to run out freely. Here’s the most basic way:
• Drill 2 to 3 inches into the south side of the tree at a convenient height, making a hole 3/8- to 5/8-inch in diameter (larger holes for larger trees). The hole should slant upward slightly.
• Then drive a metal sap spigot (available at hardware stores) into the hole, stopping short of the full distance of the hole.
• Hang a bucket on the spigot to collect the sap. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
• The sap is clear and almost tasteless—and very low in sugar content. Boil the sap to evaporate the water, producing a liquid with the characteristic flavor and color of maple syrup and a sugar content of 60 percent.
Native Americans used maple syrup both as a food and as a medicine—and taught the age-old process of sugaring to the colonists.
Did you know? Maple syrup contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals than honey.
It’s an excellent source of manganese and a good source of zinc, which sweetens your antioxidant defenses, your heart, and your immune system. It may even have special benefits for men’s reproductive health.
Learn more about maple syrup’s health benefits.
Now, if you’ve never tasted “real” maple syrup, there’s no way to describe its unique flavor and pure goodness. It’s basically a natural wonder of the world!
The “syrup” that I grew up with was filled with corn syrup and artificial “maple” flavor. Whether you like it or not (and I did at the time), it’s never met a tree.
Pure maple syrup has an earthy, naturally sweet taste and a more viscous quality than maple-flavor syrup. I guess I’d say that it’s as different as store-bought apple juice is to fresh-pressed apple juice.
At our local sugarhouses, they sell Grade A and Grade B. Grade A comes in light, medium, and dark amber. If you’re not used to pure maple syrup, you’ll want to go with Grade A light. This is what I buy for friends. (Maple syrup is my go-to gift for out-of-town hostess gifts and holiday-time gifts.)
My husband loves Grade B. It’s much richer, bolder, and thicker. Many people just use it for cooking, but he just loves the strong stuff on his pancakes—plus waffles, oatmeal, and many other foods!
Ready to taste pure goodness? See the Almanac.com General Store for some of our favorite maple syrup recipes—and award-winning maple syrup.
I’d love to hear what you think about my maple syrup post and how you enjoy eating or cooking with maple syrup!
Catherine, our New Media Editor, joined The Old Farmer's Almanac in 2008. She edits content on both this Web site, Almanac.com, and the companion site to The Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids publication, Almanac4kids.com. She also pens the Almanac Companion enewsletters and keeps up with readers on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!