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Maple Syrup Revolution: New Discovery Could Change the Business Forever
January 23, 2014 9:34 AM   Subscribe

"In October 2013, Drs. Tim Perkins and Abby van Den Berg of the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center, revealed the findings of a study at a maple syrup conference in New Brunswick, Canada that sent waves through the industry. In 2010, they were studying vacuum systems in sap collection operations. Based on the observation that one of the mature trees in the study that was missing most of its top was still yielding high volumes of sap, they hypothesized that the maples were possibly drawing moisture from the soil and not the crown. Previously, they had presumed that the sap dripping from tap holes was coming from the upper portion of the tree. But, if the tree was missing most of its crown then, they surmised, it must be drawing moisture from the roots. ... They realized that their discovery meant sugarmakers could use saplings, densely planted in open fields, to harvest sap. In other words, it is possible that maple syrup could now be produced as a row crop like every other commercial crop in North America."

How Maple Syrup is made on a commercial level

How to make Maple Syrup at home if you have the trees

MMMM!
posted by Blasdelb (102 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
How interesting that we hadn't figured this out before! Fascinating!
posted by Wretch729 at 9:36 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Ugh. Harsh. A bunch of young saplings, packed in together with their heads chopped off, the blood being sucked out of them by machines.

I guess I will only eat rocks from here on out.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:39 AM on January 23 [21 favorites]


Peak Maple Syrup PREVENTED!

Now we need to find a way to grow bacon on densely-planted tree farms!
posted by briank at 9:42 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


Perhaps not too too surprising if you've ever seen commercial apple trees which have fewer leaves than a neglected office plant. It doesn't make any sense to me how such a skinny tree can produce these huge apples. But they're still going to need some amount of foliage to actually make the sugar.

As it stands there really isn't a real shortage of maple syrup, it's just that Quebec producers have a marketing board that keeps supplies low and prices high.
posted by GuyZero at 9:43 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Gosh, first we could get ugly intensive agriculture in New England, then we find out about the sinister mafia tendencies of the maple syrup trade, all in one week…

do click the link, its great….

Modern Farmer - An Illustrated Account of the Great Maple Syrup Heist
posted by C.A.S. at 9:48 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


On the one hand, Yay! More syrup! On the other hand, this seems kind of super terrible. It would be tragic if maple stands were cut down and replaced with fields of microstumps.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:49 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


I doubt anyone would cut down mature trees, but who knows. I expect it would simply serve as a way to expand production cheaply.
posted by GuyZero at 9:52 AM on January 23


I would expect less clearing of existing maple stands and more repurposing of other existing agricultural land. The producers heavily invested in the old way of making syrup will maintain what they've got as artisanal syrup for people who don't like the idea of factory farming their syrup.
posted by Naberius at 9:53 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


The producers heavily invested in the old way of making syrup will maintain what they've got as artisanal syrup for people who don't like the idea of factory farming their syrup.

There's enough of a market of New England maple syrup snobs to keep the industry alive, I'm sure.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:54 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Gosh, first we could get ugly intensive agriculture in New England, then we find out about the sinister mafia tendencies of the maple syrup trade, all in one week…

That's not exactly new news.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:56 AM on January 23


Mrs. Butterworth could not be reached for comment, as her head was screwed off.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:56 AM on January 23 [13 favorites]


dirtdirt:
Ugh. Harsh. A bunch of young saplings, packed in together with their heads chopped off, the blood being sucked out of them by machines.
To be fair, we've created a nice virtual environment for those saplings to live in that resembles 20th century Earth in order to keep them sedate.
posted by charred husk at 9:56 AM on January 23 [25 favorites]


Next, the maple industry will lobby for subsidies to turn syrup into alcohol to fuel cars.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:57 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


You can do this with the leavings after a syrup boil. Add champagne yeast, mmmmm.
posted by mkb at 9:59 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


There could be an environmental upside if maple orchards end up replacing nastier crops. Cheaper maple syrup and less corn syrup is dancing in the streets news.

Seriously this will cut the price of brown gold by at least half. Likely soon.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:59 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


MAPLE COKE EVERYONE

MAPLE FREAKING COKE
posted by Teakettle at 10:00 AM on January 23 [16 favorites]


Next, the maple industry will lobby for subsidies to turn syrup into alcohol to fuel cars.

Na. Too sloooow
posted by BlueHorse at 10:03 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


... can you short commodity futures? Or was that just in Trading Places.
posted by penduluum at 10:03 AM on January 23


Mrs. Butterworth could not be reached for comment, as her head was screwed off.

O.K., fair enough, but after she's finished screwing her head off, could she offer some kind of post-coital comment?
posted by yoink at 10:03 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


What does Mrs. Butterworth have to do with maple syrup?
posted by ODiV at 10:04 AM on January 23 [22 favorites]


MAPLE COKE EVERYONE

MAPLE FREAKING COKE



I... I might actually try that.
posted by Naberius at 10:04 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Next, the maple industry will lobby for subsidies to turn syrup into alcohol to fuel cars.

I take it you have never had the liquid joy that is sortilege?

Try it on vanilla ice cream. You're welcome.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:05 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


What does Mrs. Butterworth have to do with maple syrup?

Good point! What this would probably do is make real maple syrup more cost competitive with cheap, crappy flavored high-fructose corn syrups, and anything that gets rid of those can't be too bad.
posted by Naberius at 10:07 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]


I take it you have never had the liquid joy that is sortilege?

Isn't that a small SUV made by Kia?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:10 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


Of course, the quality of maple syrup won't diminish with industrialized production.

We live in the world of the future!

It's bad enough that the market's basically killed off rich, flavorful B and C-graded syrup in favor of clear, lifeless A because A always means "better," right?

Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 10:11 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


It's bad enough that the market's basically killed off rich, flavorful B and C-graded syrup in favor of clear, lifeless A because A always means "better," right?

Blame whomever thought "A- B- C-grade' was a good way to label product. Clearly no marketers were involved, or they'd be labelled Crystal Clear (clearly the best choice!), Amber Flow (like grandpa used!), and Dark Reserve (for refined palattes!).
posted by Freon at 10:20 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]


penduluum: "... can you short commodity futures? Or was that just in Trading Places."

Yes, you can.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:21 AM on January 23


I just had some Woodchuck seasonal cider that was barrel-aged with vanilla added. Kind of weird as cider, but I used it as a base, to which I added maple syrup and raisins, for a filling/sauce for baked Braeburn apples (garnished with anisette biscotti and no-fat vanilla Greek yogurt).

Fuck was that good.

Maple syrup is the best thing ever. I'm not sure if it becoming cheap is a good or a bad thing.

I'm sorry if I just ruined anyone's diet.
posted by spitbull at 10:21 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Blame whomever thought "A- B- C-grade' was a good way to label product.

Actually, Vermont maple syrup is all Grade A now.

I can never find Grade B in the supermarket, so I order a gallon and a half by mail every Spring. Somehow it's still cheaper than buying by the pint or quart at the store. We generally run out sometime in October or November, so I'm thinking this year I'll order two gallons.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:25 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Buy pint cans instead of actual gallon jugs as then it will keep a lot better outside of a fridge. We too are on our last can and awaiting the return of the precious nectar of life.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I recommend Sugarbush Farm for your maple needs. They also make cheese.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:28 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


... can you short commodity futures? Or was that just in Trading Places.

Being able to hedge against risk and/or short to balance a trading position is almost the entire point of commodity futures.
posted by jaduncan at 10:33 AM on January 23


Actually, Vermont maple syrup is all Grade A now.

New York's been pretty much like this since at least 1996. We have Grade A Light, Medium or Dark Amber, and Extra Dark For Cooking. Grade B is for commercial processing only.
posted by zamboni at 10:36 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I recommend Sugarbush Farm for your maple needs.

I've been buying from Smith, which looks to be a little bit cheaper (and I've found the syrup to be just fine).
posted by uncleozzy at 10:37 AM on January 23


Actually, Vermont maple syrup is all Grade A now.

Huh, the place I get my syrup still has Grade B as a category.
posted by elizardbits at 10:40 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Huh, the place I get my syrup still has Grade B as a category.

Existing VT sugarbushes have a while before they're required to use the new classifications:
4. Exceptions: A transition period for using existing grade labeling will extend until January 1, 2015. In addition, producers producing and selling their syrup within the state of Vermont may use the existing grade terminology in addition to the new grades until January 1, 2017. After January 1, 2017, only the appropriate grade designations set forth in these regulations shall be used.
posted by zamboni at 10:47 AM on January 23


Boiling down the sap into syrup is such an energy-intensive process. Perhaps the saplings could be grown close to the site of some other heat-producing operation and recovered waste heat could then be used for sugaring off.
posted by islander at 10:50 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


artisanal syrup for people who don't like the idea of factory farming their syrup

It's a question of degrees, isn't it? Even this old-timey stuff is industrialized - note the giant metal cauldron and metal-banded buckets. It's a series of small changes over time from dropping hot rocks into birch buckets to the current method of vacuum hoses and reverse osmosis. So does the further difference of using younger trees and hooking the tubing to a different location really matter that much? It's pretty hard to pinpoint the moment at which a process becomes 'industrialized'.
posted by echo target at 10:51 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Fancy/Grade A maple syrup is for fops and dandys whose limp palates can't handle flavor. Grade B is a real man's maple syrup. I take it neat, no pancakes.
posted by vorpal bunny at 10:51 AM on January 23 [16 favorites]


I have learned that I really cannot actually keep maple syrup in my home.

Because one day, sooner or later--and it's usually sooner--I will have That Craving, but have no interest in actually making pancakes or French toast, there's no nearby human of the right configuration to lick it off, and I don't even have ice cream to put it on.

One spoonful, I promise myself. Just one. Just today.

Bottle is empty within three days.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:54 AM on January 23 [8 favorites]


FFFM--you haven't lived till you've put maple syrup on snow and eaten the delicious confection that is a MS snow cone. New fallen fresh snow, from an unpopulated place. Don't go where the huskys go.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:09 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


I only vaguely remember Grandma’s homemade syrup. By the time I was old enough to have real memories, something had gone wrong with the trees, but there were still taps left in some of them. We used them as footholds for climbing. Mom remembers having all the doors and windows open and still having to go outside to escape the heat and the steam from the woodstove. (She never got enough sap to justify building a sugarhouse.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:11 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


BlueHorse, trips to a sugar bush are (or at least were) a yearly field trip all through elementary school and junior high, at least at my schools. I have partaken of the joy that is maple syrup taffy, and I have had maple snow cones.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:12 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Driving around Williamson, NY (Appletown, USA), I began to notice over the last decade that apple orchards were beginning to resemble vineyards (smaller, bush-like vegetation as opposed to trees). I asked one of the farmers about it, and he told me "we switched out about ten years ago."

So yeah. Horticulture.

Great post by the way!
posted by valkane at 11:12 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


We used to buy maple syrup by the gallon (big metal can) but nowadays we buy from my cousin and uncle who only make little cans. Medium only, unless they're out and we have to buy Light. Making syrup is a lot of work; you have to tap the trees and build or fix the lines, the sap is coming you can have to boil for 24 hours non stop or more, because otherwise you'd have to dump the sap. And then you have to untap the trees and clean the lines.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:14 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


The history of the weird US grading system for syrup is interesting.

Also sad, because the highest grade went to the most flavorless stuff because we value the flavorless, as seen on TV.
posted by sonascope at 11:15 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Maple cotton candy is the highlight of the New Hampshire town fair season for me*. If this keeps me in inexpensive Grade B, then I'm all for it.

*That and cardboard dog bowls full of french fries smothered in vinegar. Don't judge me!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 11:16 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Crystal Clear
Amber Flow
Dark Reserve


I think you just named the lead members of a new teen hip-hop collective.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:18 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


In exchange for allowing him to tap the trees on my grandmother's property, her neighbor pays my family in unlimited free syrup. I just came here to brag.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:22 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


Sorry, lost in nostalgia. In my last job, we did a project with the NYS Maple Growers' Association. I ended up having to ship, carry, divide, count, and distribute thousands of samples to classrooms. My office was like a labyrinth of boxes of syrup samples. Syramples. I'd get a call from the loading dock and have to go down and haul up more crates of the stuff. I was constantly singing those lines from "Dang Me:"

Roses are red and violets are purple
Sugar is sweet and so's maple syrple.
But in the end, in addition to the satisfaction of a job well done, I was rewarded with swag. And it was goood swag.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:22 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


On the way home from synthesizer band camp this fall, I stopped to stay with my friends in Hopewell Junction, New York, and I picked up a ton of yummy yummy grade B from the local place, Cronin's Maple Farm. I heartily endorse it.

I even heartilier endorse their "Maple Bourbon," which isn't bourbon, but is, in fact, rich luxurious dark maple syrup aged to woody celestial perfection in bourbon barrels. The combination of homemade vanilla bean ice cream, a cloud of hand-whipped unsweetened cream, crumbled applewood bacon, and a drizzle of that stuff is better than the afterlife promised by almost any religion.
posted by sonascope at 11:23 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


And I've heard you can tap and process birch trees in the same way as maples. I'd be curious to try, although it sounds like it's ridiculously expensive.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:24 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


FFFM--you haven't lived till you've put maple syrup on snow and eaten the delicious confection that is a MS snow cone. New fallen fresh snow, from an unpopulated place. Don't go where the huskys go.

Laura Ingalls Wilder says hello.
posted by valkane at 11:28 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Though the image of a bunch of headless saplings covering acres of ground where there once was a forest is unappealing to say the least, this new discovery also presents a possible solution to minimize the space used.

Since the space required is smaller, the saplings shorter, and requiring less sunlight because of it, an industrial-level production facility could build upward and reduce spreading outward by the use of a multi-level tier system. It wouldn't look that pretty perhaps, but imagine a field with the saplings, and above it a metal frame work that supports long troughs of soil a few feet deep with a row of saplings in each. You could probably go three or four stories upward, resembling a parking garage, but without all the concrete to block the light coming through. This would yield four times the output of a single field, requiring less acreage to clear. Granted, there would be more management of the nutrients in the soil for the saplings in these 'hanging garden' style setups, but it would save money in other areas to easily counteract that.

I wouldn't be surprised if something like this hasn't already been tried in the wine industry.
posted by chambers at 11:28 AM on January 23


I buy from my uncle's farm which is exactly how you would think every maple should be.

Based on the fact that a lot of existing sugarbushes are built on hilly land (to help the vacuum tubes bring the sap downhill, and also b/c this land is otherwise non-arable), I would expect this technology to indeed put existing sugarbushes out of business, if they can produce high-grade maple syrup at scale cheaply.
posted by The Ted at 11:29 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Honestly, the birch syrup I tried recently was too weird for normal use. Extremely dark, mulchy almost fungal flavours... could be interesting in the experimental kitchen, but not something I wanted on my pancakes. I understand that the ratios are different, maple is reduced something like 10:1 whereas birch sap is more dilute and is concentrated 100:1. Potent, strange stuff for sure.
posted by kaspen at 11:44 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


put existing sugarbushes out of business

It take a lot to make this atheist pray, but I pray this doesn't happen.
posted by theredpen at 11:44 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I'm interested to read more about these newfangled apple-growing methods mentioned above, does anyone have a link or a keyword I could search?
posted by kaspen at 11:44 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


above it a metal frame work that supports long troughs of soil a few feet deep with a row of saplings in each...three or four stories upward

Wouldn't that be wildly expensive to maintain compared to just using more land? Plus you'd need some kind of special heavy equipment to get at the upper levels. Where do you see the money savings coming in?
posted by echo target at 11:45 AM on January 23


Mrs. Butterworth could not be reached for comment, as her head was screwed off.

Aunt Jemima couldn't comment because she was being updated to make the inherent racism in her caricature less overt.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:52 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't that be wildly expensive to maintain compared to just using more land? Plus you'd need some kind of special heavy equipment to get at the upper levels. Where do you see the money savings coming in?

I re-read my post and now I see that really what I am talking about is for the most part just simple scaffolding. The biggest piece of equipment needed would probably be a forklift - also note that each of the the 'stories' would be only a little more than half the height of what a normal building would have. Why the word 'scaffolding' escaped me at the time and ended up describing something much more complicated is probably due to the recent lack of pancakes and syrup in my diet.
posted by chambers at 12:00 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


We tried tapping our Norway maple tree here in Portland, Oregon, recently. Supposedly it has been done locally before, and supposedly the conditions are right. But we haven't seen a drop.
posted by aniola at 12:00 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I'm interested to read more about these newfangled apple-growing methods mentioned above, does anyone have a link or a keyword I could search?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit_tree_forms

Try that one. As I understand it, they're using the bush model, as apples are grafted.

I am not an expert.
posted by valkane at 12:01 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Trader Joe's sells the B grade syrup, so that market isn't exactly dead. And tree farms of maple trees would be pretty, so I don't see why this is such a dread prospect.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:17 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


> Now we need to find a way to grow bacon on densely-planted tree farms!

Eureka! Maple syrup pumps and vat-grown bacon.

This is the future.

posted by mmrtnt at 12:24 PM on January 23


In 2010, they were studying vacuum systems in sap collection operations. Based on the observation that one of the mature trees in the study that was missing most of its top was still yielding high volumes of sap, they hypothesized that the maples were possibly drawing moisture from the soil and not the crown.

When in stands with other trees of the same species, lots of trees can develop shared root systems.

Maple trees have been being cloned for some time now, and maples are known to propagate naturally by stump sprouts and root suckers.

If that single tree they observed was a clone of nearby trees, or a stump sprout, or originated from a root sucker, it was almost certainly connected through its roots to surrounding trees. Even if was merely mostly homozygous with surrounding trees it could well have had a shared root system with those trees.

I saw nothing in either of the linked articles to indicate that the possibility of a shared root system had been ruled out for the original observed tree, and absent that, I think a shared root system is the most likely explanation. They could simply have been pulling sap from the surrounding trees.
posted by jamjam at 12:34 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


> I wouldn't be surprised if something like this hasn't already been tried in the wine industry.

What?

Sucking wine out of the tops of grapevines?

I LIKE it!

posted by mmrtnt at 12:36 PM on January 23


Somebody call me when they domesticate truffles.
posted by valkane at 12:40 PM on January 23


To be fair, we've created a nice virtual environment for those saplings to live in that resembles 20th century Earth in order to keep they happy

You know, Keanu Reaves was put on this earth to play a maple tree.
posted by cacofonie at 12:51 PM on January 23


Somebody call me when they domesticate truffles.
Still pretty difficult
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:56 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


But will it be just as tasty?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:05 PM on January 23


My omelette needs to know!
posted by valkane at 1:06 PM on January 23


Metafilter: Still Pretty Difficult.
posted by valkane at 1:10 PM on January 23


Ya'll can keep your fancy hoses. I'm going to stick with buckets forever, because there is nothing like checking the buckets in the morning, picking out the bugs and pine-needles that have snuck in overnight, and drinking huge gulps of ice-cold sap from your cupped hands. Nothing.

Part of me wishes you could bottle and sell sap, but most of me is so glad you can't.
posted by Grandysaur at 1:13 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I suspect the Quebec maple syrup mafia will be paying someone a visit.
posted by srboisvert at 1:32 PM on January 23


Hope that this makes maple syrup more available/affordable here in South America. I buy some once every decade or so, being crazy expensive and hard to come by.
posted by lbebber at 1:35 PM on January 23


This has the potential to do for the maple syrup industry what fracking did to the energy business!
posted by BobbyVan at 1:35 PM on January 23


The natural forest would become redundant.

Oh good.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:41 PM on January 23


Hope that this makes maple syrup more available/affordable here in South America.

Does it get below freezing in southern Argentina? I wonder if transplanted sugar maples would grow there.
posted by GuyZero at 1:48 PM on January 23


Hope that this makes maple syrup more available/affordable here in South America.

One of the greatest things I ever saw were the expressions on my Argentinian friends' faces upon their first taste of maple syrup. It was really expensive in Europe, like 20 euros for one of those smallish Camp bottles. They cried a little when I told them that breakfast places in the US give it away for free.
posted by elizardbits at 1:49 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Well, no, most places give away fake maple syrup for free. It's fairly hard to find a restaurant that serves real maple syrup, at least outside of Vermont and Quebec.
posted by GuyZero at 1:50 PM on January 23


It's fairly hard to find a restaurant that serves real maple syrup

Well, not that hard, just maybe not at at the side of the interstate anyway.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 2:01 PM on January 23


The nicer breakfast places where I am (DC) usually give you a thing of maple syrup for free and would probably give you two if you asked nicely. It's not an everywhere thing, but it's hardly uncommon.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:02 PM on January 23


Used to be that there were regional syrups used on pancakes and biscuits (ribbon cane, sorghum, black strap molasses, etc.) anyway until Big Maple came and muscled out the competion. That left them vulnerable to the corn syrup people.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 2:10 PM on January 23


growing trees on scaffold probably wouldn't work because they need light. which you're not going to get if you stack things.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:49 PM on January 23


Blame whomever thought "A- B- C-grade' was a good way to label product. Clearly no marketers were involved, or they'd be labelled Crystal Clear (clearly the best choice!), Amber Flow (like grandpa used!), and Dark Reserve (for refined palattes!).

The new Vermont Maple Syrup grades (linked upthread) basically do exactly that. Instead of AA, A, B, and C-grade, there will now be "Golden Color / Delicate Taste", "Amber Color / Rich Taste", "Dark Color / Robust Taste", and "Very Dark Color / Strong Taste".

I'm not exactly sure how the new grades map to the old ones, because I'm not sure of the formal definitions of the old grades (though I was always a Grade B sort of guy myself), but it seems like they are basically formalizing the subgrades of Grade A (Light Amber, Medium Amber, Dark Amber), while Very Dark is essentially Grade B. There doesn't seem to be a Vermont equivalent to Grade C; I guess they figure it's fit only for maple candy or giving your dog diabetes.

My guess is that New Hampshire ain't going to truck with that hippy shit and will continue to produce the traditional grades, because New Hampshire.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:04 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Used to be that there were regional syrups used on pancakes and biscuits (ribbon cane, sorghum, black strap molasses, etc.) anyway until Big Maple came and muscled out the competion. That left them vulnerable to the corn syrup people.

Yeah, an older colleague of mine who grew up in the southeastern U.S. told me that when he was a kid, nobody ate "pancake syrup" - i.e. maple-flavored corn syrup - on pancakes, even in restaurants. It was always sorghum or molasses.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:36 PM on January 23


There was a couple of articles out about Grade B syrup the other day and now we're seeing B spring up in our local artisanal grocery stores.... Yay!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:48 PM on January 23


There doesn't seem to be a Vermont equivalent to Grade C

Not directly, but the old C would be equivalent to the darkest ” Dark Color / Robust Taste” and any ” Very Dark Color / Strong Taste”.

Old rules:
e. “Commercial Grade” means pure maple syrup which is free of any material other than pure, clean, clear liquid maple syrup in a sanitary condition. Commercial Grade shall have a color for light transmittance less than 27.0% Tc; (The United States Department of Agriculture does not have an approved visual glass comparator which compares to the light transmittance of this grade. Thus, for reference purposes only, a glass comparator that is equivalent to the light transmittance of 27.0% Tc, and which may be used, is that for “Canadian No. 3(dark)” as said comparators were on June 9, 1989). Commercial Grade may have a strong flavor yet shall not be damaged in any way and Commercial Grade shall be free of sugar crystals. Commercial Grade syrup shall not be placed in packaged maple syrup containers and may not be sold, offered for sale, or exposed for sale as packaged maple syrup.
New rules:
c. ” Dark Color / Robust Taste” means pure maple syrup which is free of any material other than pure, clear, clean liquid maple syrup in sanitary condition; which has a color no darker than the United States Department of Agriculture visual standard Dark Color, or has a color for light transmittance between the range of 49.9% Tc to 25% Tc; it may have a flavor which is stronger than that of Amber Color / Rich Taste, but which is not sharp, bitter, buddy or off-flavor r. Dark Color / Robust Taste shall be free of sugar crystals and shall not be damaged in any way;

d. ” Very Dark Color / Strong Taste” means pure maple syrup which is free of any material other than pure, clean, clear liquid maple syrup in sanitary condition; which has a color for light transmittance less than 25% Tc. (The United States Department of Agriculture does not have an approved visual glass comparetor which compares to the light transmittance of this grade. Very Dark Color / Strong Taste may have a flavor stronger than Dark Color / Robust Taste, but shall not be damaged in any way and shall be free of sugar crystals;
Note that VDC/ST is approved for package sale. Also, "Processing" is effectively the old " Substandard".
posted by zamboni at 4:24 PM on January 23


Our you all could just do what my brother does when he wants syrup, and boil a 50/50 brown sugar and water mixture.

My brother is rather declasse when it comes to gustatory matters.
posted by happyroach at 4:30 PM on January 23


growing trees on scaffold probably wouldn't work because they need light. which you're not going to get if you stack things.

Ok, I geeked out a bit and thought about it some more, and I've come to the conclusion that more than one 'level' is impractical, but adding just one level could nearly double the yield.

From the linked article, halfway down: "According to the researchers’ calculations, an acre of what is now called “the plantation method” could sustain 5,800 saplings with taps yielding 400 gallons of syrup per acre"

I looked up what other plants are currently planted with a density of 5,800 per acre, and was surprised to find that is the same number of plants per acre as tomatoes. Now that's assuming that not only are the rows are only about 5 or six feet apart, with each sapling spaced about 30 inches from each other within a row.

So if you orient the rows in an east-west manner to maximize sunlight, and place rows of saplings in soil troughs on scaffolding between the rows on the grounds about 10' off the ground, you end up nearly doubling the amount of saplings in the same space that only minimally interferes with the amount of sunlight each sapling gets. As scaffolding is mostly made of metal pipe, it would only block a negligible amount of sunlight from the saplings below. The troughs themselves, working with a basic 3 feet deep 4 feet wide size, would be be the biggest blocker of light to the rows on the northern end of the field, but this too can be minimized by either placing the orchard on a south-sloping hill, or simply making the orchard field longer rather than wider. Any slower production from the slightly lower light levels should be easily be made up for by a very small fraction of the increased yield. Access to the upper level of saplings could be with metal grate walkways along the trough, and the entire vacuum and irrigation/fertilization system for both levels could be routed along the underside of the trough. This process nearly doubles the amount of total rows possible if used between every available row, with the a side benefit of protecting the vacuum system that would have to be present anyways.

However, there are factors beyond my knowledge such as the necessary volume soil required for the sapling's root system, the greater variables in temperature of the soil due to the troughs being exposed from the side and below, and probably a hundred other things I haven't even considered.

So... any syrup plantation owners out there wanna make a deal?
posted by chambers at 6:58 PM on January 23


It's fairly hard to find a restaurant that serves real maple syrup, at least outside of Vermont and Quebec.

We don't allow outside condiments
posted by rhizome at 11:11 PM on January 23


Ham Snadwich: "And I've heard you can tap and process birch trees in the same way as maples. I'd be curious to try, although it sounds like it's ridiculously expensive."

Yeah birch syrup is... interesting to try, but I never came up with any real uses for it. It's pretty... challenging stuff. The producers suggested a birch milkshake, which I think would work well, and a birch baked salmon dish which I think would be a waste of everyone's time. I tried substituting it in my maple old fashioneds and it just wasn't an improvement.
posted by danny the boy at 2:20 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


One spoonful, I promise myself. Just one. Just today.

Same drama at my fridge but with can of sweetened condensed milk.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:26 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


There is a downside to this that has not yet been mentioned: what happens to the 500 acres of forest after it is no longer valuable as a sugar bush? In many ways I'll bet the only reason these trees are still standing and aren't being logged off or cleared for development is that they are useful for maple sugar making. Once you have a corn field you don't give a crap about the teosinte, you mow it down and replant the corn. Look forward to existing sugar bushes clear cutting then planting baby saplings. Yay.

And it gets better. At no point will these saplings ever become mature forest. They will be planted densely, allowed to grow for a few years, then decapitated. For each acre of saplings being harvested there will be 4 or 5 acres (depending on how long they allow growth before harvest) of younger saplings or seeded field. They only possible upside is that the saplings might become pulp for paper, post-harvest. But given the size of the saplings I'm more inclined to think wood chips.

Mature forest used as sugar bush means home for animals and other species; a monoculture field of densely packed saplings is as environmentally friendly for wildlife as a cornfield. No place to live, no biodiversity. Sometimes just because it is easier doesn't make it better.

My dad has been making maple syrup for years as part of his job coordinating the outdoor ed program for his local school system. 4th graders tap the trees, and haul sap once or twice. He does all the rest of the work. My siblings and I all spent our time helping over the years. My struggle with the sap buckets back in high school and college, all that time spent freezing my tail off and spilling that sweet sap down my legs trying to pour it, all the sweet icicles I chewed on, washing the endless pile of sap buckets and trying to scrub out the big boiler pan... My reward for that is a gallon jug of super-dark syrup in the fridge, every year, and the day he finally retires will be sad because we will all know it will mean an end to this and the start of buying it at the store.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:32 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


"There is a downside to this that has not yet been mentioned: what happens to the 500 acres of forest after it is no longer valuable as a sugar bush?"

This has indeed been mentioned and is addressed as something that is not really a possibility. Current stands of mature maple will continue to be just as commercially viable.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:55 AM on January 24


I'll bet the only reason these trees are still standing and aren't being logged off or cleared for development is that they are useful for maple sugar making.

I don't think this is always the case. On my cousins' farms, the sugarbushes are on land too nearly vertical for regular crops. With the decline of family dairy farming, there is even less incentive to clear woods for pasture.

Also, is the decapitation a necessary part of the new sugaring method, or is that just the reason they concluded that the tree was drawing water through its roots?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:55 AM on January 24


"Also, is the decapitation a necessary part of the new sugaring method, or is that just the reason they concluded that the tree was drawing water through its roots?"

Check out these pictures of the technique, the trees used are way to small to effectively tap in a non-lethal way.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:59 AM on January 24


the trees used are way too small to effectively tap in a non-lethal way.

They are also small enough that cutting off the tops would not necessarily be lethal. It won't make for a pretty tree, but a young maple like that will bud out in the sping no problem. Plus there'd be tons of root suckers. That's why this works, the tree's top is gone, but the root system is still alive.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:24 AM on January 24


maple old fashioneds

How is it that I spent most of my life in New England and have never had one of these?
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:13 AM on January 24


Previously, they had presumed that the sap dripping from tap holes was coming from the upper portion of the tree.

Uh, am I missing something? The tree stores sugars (or starch, whatever) in the root system, then releases it as sweet sap in the spring to fuel new leaf growth. I thought everyone knew this? Do the trees even have leaves during the syrup season?
posted by ryanrs at 1:57 PM on January 24


Kadin2048: "maple old fashioneds

How is it that I spent most of my life in New England and have never had one of these?
"

Probably cus it wasn't invented by the sap suckers, but by fussy coastal mixology people. I like mine with rye, I feel it pairs better with the maple than bourbon does. Also, it's a good reason to keep candied bacon on hand, for garnish.

I think it goes without saying, but for the record, you serve it up, and definitely without the fruit salad.
posted by danny the boy at 2:17 PM on January 24


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