Maple Sugaring in the Adirondacks Spring 2016
As winter gives way to thaw, maple sugaring season comes alive in the Adirondacks. Groves of “sugar bushes” or maple trees are sporting taps with pails or plastic lines to collect the sweet sap. The Sugar Maple is New York’s “official tree,” so it’s no wonder that New York is the second largest producer of maple syrup in the country. The Adirondacks accounts for nearly a third of the state’s production, with sugar bushes dotting much of the Adirondack Park.
Legend has it that an Iroquois woman, the wife of Chief Woksis, was the first to make maple syrup. When the village chief set out on his hunt one day, he yanked his tomahawk from the tree where he’d thrown it the night before. The day turned quite warm, causing sap to run from the tree and collect in a vessel that happened to be sitting at its trunk. Noticing the vessel full of “water” the woman used it in preparation for the evening’s meal. The boiling that ensued turned sap into syrup, flavoring the meal as never before. Thus began the tradition of making maple syrup.
Maple syrup has been around for hundreds of years, and there is a certain nostalgia surrounding this tradition that has continued for generations. Nothing spells comfort more than fresh maple syrup on a warm stack of buttermilk pancakes. A far cry from the corn syrup laden grocery store brands, real Grade A or B maple syrup has a taste all its own. Organic by nature, the sap flows from hundred-year old trees when the temperature is just right, late winter, early spring when the temps hit 40 degrees, right around the time of the “sugar moon” (the first full moon in spring). It takes about 5-1/2 days to collect about 40 gallons of sap, which will make one gallon of syrup. It’s a short season, lasting only a few weeks, sometimes beginning in February and other times lasting well into April.
Once collected, the sap flows into an evaporator, where it is boiled down over many hours to a thick liquid gold syrup. It is then strained and packed hot into containers and sealed and graded. Grade B syrup was always the secret favorite of connoiseurs, dark amber in color and robust in flavor, but has now mysteriously disappeared from the shelves. Last year a new grading system was adopted using only Grade A but now with four sub categories, with the favored Grade B now labeled Grade A: Dark Color & Robust Flavor.
Now to the really good news…maple syrup sports numerous health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, especially manganese and zinc. The sap flows from the tree, whose roots garner nourishment directly from the earth in old-growth forests. Many studies have espoused its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties because of high levels of polyphenol antioxidants. It’s a better alternative sweetener for digestive health and less likely to cause a sugar crash.
Maple syrup isn’t just for pancakes. Drizzle it over yogurt or ice cream, add it to roasted vegetables, sweeten drinks. Try it in an Old Fashioned or a maple-flavored milkshake. Then check out these local farms to get your fix of this year’s batch:
- Hidden Hollow Maple Farm Inc. in Warrensburg
- Toad Hill Maple Farm in Thurman
- Valley Road Maple Farm in Thurman