It’s officially the start of the Maple syrup season here in Vermont. I had the privilege of learning how the process works from a seasoned sugaring veteran.
To make a long story short, sap from Maple trees is collected and pumped into a holding tank on the second floor of the sugar shack (through a gravity-fed system). From the holding tank , the sap is fed through a tube down into a large, rectangular metal basin. The sap is boiled down to syrup as it’s pulled by displacement through maze-like canals. Finally, the syrup is stripped of “maple sand” and other impurities through a series of steel plates and is ready for bottling.
Brian has been doing this since he was little, helping his family collect the 2100 taps his father had set up. Now he continues the whole process he learned as a boy, but with a few more helping hands. This process hasn’t changed much over the years, and is still labor intensive–from hauling back buckets of sap, to staying up until 2 AM to keep the fire lit, or to fill hundreds of containers with the syrup to sell.
When Brian told me that even if the wind blows the wrong way the sap doesn’t flow, I realized just how temperamental the system is. If the fire underneath the cooking basin is too hot, it will burn a hole right through and the tray alone is worth more than I make in a year. If the color is off, even a little, they wouldn’t be able to sell it at a higher grade costing them time and money.
So, next time I’m in need of syrup for my french toast, I’m going to wait for the real thing and support a local business.
Oh! And as a side note: Brian insists that Grade B has the most flavor. Just sayin’.