As the snow-covered landscape transforms to one that is packed with mud and fun, something else is transforming as well; the trees. You see, not only do the trees in our region start to blossom, they are also starting to produce a liquid, that is if you are looking at the right trees. Sugar maples in New England are very busy this time of year as they produce a sweet syrup, maple syrup, that is delivered to you and served on your pancakes for breakfast. What may seem to be such a simple process, is really quite, well, daunting.
This Saturday, I explored for myself just how this process works. I had been very interested for years in this customary New England process, and I was thrilled to find out that Flanders Nature Center in Woodbury was offering tours of their sugar house and showing off just how everything worked. When I arrived, I was introduced to a young volunteer, Amy, who guided about eight of us through the sugar house and it’s property. We started out discovering how the process had been founded and what had made it so popular. Next, we moved on to what life was like for the children back in the farming days of columnists as children would literally spend hours a day out and about carrying buckets over their shoulders worth of syrup that they had collected from the trees. Carrying buckets for hours? I don’t even think today’s kids can comprehend that as they are sitting glued to their television sets and computer screens. My, how the world has changed. These kids would literally do all this work without complaining too as they helped their families “bring home the bacon” and make a good living out of what seems to be an incredibly hard life.
After we learned about the rather daunting process of going to gather the syrup, we saw a syrup bucket in action ourselves as one was dripping a rather good amount from one of the sugar maples from the property. One person had asked a rather amusing question; “How do you know which tree is a sugar maple?”. Now, I wouldn’t know what to say to that. I don’t know trees. To me, a tree is a tree. Amy’s answer to this question, however, was rather quite amusing to us as well; “The bark” she said. The bark. Honestly? I’m looking around at hundreds if not thousands of trees and every single one of these trees look exactly the same! I couldn’t tell you which bark was which. It was an honest answer though, but we’ll just leave the bark discovering to the professionals.
Lastly, we headed back inside to the sugar house we saw this hot, steamy, boiling process. I stress the steam thing, I thought I was in a sauna. What was interesting to note, however, was just how long boiling it really took. We were told this would take a couple of days as they had to wait for it to get to the right temperature. Days? This thing is boiling like crazy and you still have to wait days as you fiddle around with a little temperature thing that bounces up and down inside the vat. Days. Okay, clearly this is not something I’ll be investing in for my backyard, but it’s great to watch!
My discovery of how maple syrup was made was nothing that I thought it would be. In fact, it was incredibly amazing! I learned a lot of great things, even the little things like there is no thing such as sugar-free maple syrup. Really? People buy those products all the time thinking that they are better for them, when in reality the stuff isn’t even real maple syrup and is diluted with all sorts of other ingredients. Sorry sugar-free fans, you aren’t getting the real deal, but that’s okay. That’s why we have all these great maple professionals here in New England to guide us to the right ones. The folks at Flanders certainly knew a lot about the business, and with the long winter that we have had, I’m glad that someone was available to entertain me about which bark was a maple tree, which I don’t think I will ever be able to tell.
For more information, visit: Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust