Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cold weather delays sugaring in Vt. and Quebec

By Manfried Rieder
The record braking cold spell we had last week has delayed maple syrup production in most of northern Vermont and neighboring Quebec and when contacted, 12 sugar producers stated that they may be about three weeks late this year but as the owner of one sugar shack said: "We had winters where we were boiling off the sap in February and it could go as late as April in some years - it is nature's way and we are quite used to these vagaries"
However, most Vermont sugar shacks will host an Open House Maple Weekend on Saturday March 22 and Sunday, March 23. Nearby, in Derby, Jed's Maple will have their 15th annual Sugar on the Snow party and Maple Open House. This is a free event with story time in the morning, a Junior Sugarmaker class in the afternoon and food tasting all day long. Weather permitting they will be boiling and there will be samples of fresh syrup.
The event spans all regions of Vermont and we spoke with a sugar maker at the "Sugar Shack and Battenkill Gallery" in Arlington. This might be a bit far for our readers but this famous old maple producer has made the simple maple sap into an art form with a huge array of products ranging from all grades and bottling sizes of syrup to candies, pies and maple related condiments and baked goods. They also have a beautiful collection of Norman Rockwell paintings in their "Battenkill Gallery". This place is on historic route 7A near Bennington.
Prices for maple syrup have gone sky high in recent years and you can compare the per-ounce cost of syrup with the cost of a good quality bourbon or vodka. Currently a simple quart of best grade syrup retails for about $ 24.-
The production of syrup goes back to the original inhabitants, the Abenaki Indians, who had a long tradition of gathering and boiling sap, a custom that was embraced and continued by the early settlers of the region. Until just a few short years ago the methods were traditional - spouts would be driven into mature maple trees and buckets hung on them to gather the sap as the early spring warmed the tree trunks enough to get the sap flowing. The buckets would be emptied into barrels and - often by horse drawn sleigh - be brought to the sugar house to be boiled down into syrup. Many such traditional shacks still exist, mainly in southern Quebec but the horse has been replaced by the tractor and stainless steel containers the wooden barrel. In order to adhere to standards, no matter how rustic the old shacks may look on the outside, expensive stainless steel boiling equipment had become the norm inside. Approximately 80 % of all production is now done by automation with hoses and pipes, pumps and vacuum system will deliver the sap directly to the production facility. The cost of this is high. Newport's Pick and Shovel hardware store has a separate building to sell the equipment for serious maple producers and the prices for the modern machinery required to get into or update a shack is not for the faint of heart.
But - from simple addition to the morning's French toast or pancakes, the syrup has found its way into the limelight of the international cuisine. There is maple syrup Sushi in Japan and maple roasted pork chops in Berlin. Swedish meatballs can be had with maple infused lingonberry sauce and bars all over the planet have begin to concoct syrup based cocktails such as the Mapletini, four ounces of room temperature Vodka into which is stirred one teaspoon of good grade syrup which is poured over crushed ice and served with a short straw. Others do as we have done in my family: we use a teaspoon of syrup to sweeten our morning coffee.
Enjoy the maple culture of Vermont and the Eastern Townships beginning this weekend and if you have a Mapletini - Scoal!
$ 24.- for a quart of tinned syrup

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