Mmmmm. Maple Syrup in Pancakes.
April 6, 2008 3:50 PM   Subscribe

"The sweet aroma of sap permeating the air, still harkens the arrival of Spring"* in New England, Canada and other U.S. states. The Eastern Woodland Indians discovered that maple sap cooked over an open fire produces a sweet sugar [video], resulting in maple syrup. Many associate the syrup with Quebec (which produces most of the world's supply) and Vermont where about "one of every four a maple."* Vermont even has a "maple cop." He enforces "Vermont's maple regulations for the state Agency of Agriculture, which strictly regulates how Vermont's most famous export is made, marketed and sold."*

Always fun this time of year is to visit a sap house, sugar shack, sugar house, sugar shanty or "cabane à sucre" to watch the process of making the confection and to enjoy not only the syrup, but also maple taffy/taffee, maple sugar, maple cream and maple butter.

How To Guide to Tapping Maple Trees and Making Maple Syrup [PDF]

Maple Sugaring in Your Backyard [PDF]

Making Maple Syrup [video].
posted by ericb (36 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my god do I miss real maple syrup.
posted by absalom at 3:52 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

So when I was in Canada, the tourist shops all had real maple syrup for like 20.00 a bottle. On my drive home I stopped at Great Canadian Superstore in Strathroy, ON to load up on Canadian groceries that we can't get here and picked up a bottle of the real goodness for 6.00. Score.
posted by pieoverdone at 3:56 PM on April 6, 2008

It's making me homesick too, thinking about the cabane a sucre, and fresh syrup poured into the snow to make delicious chewy treats, and the spring sun shining in a deep blue sky, casting sharp shadows on the bright white snow...
posted by Flashman at 4:01 PM on April 6, 2008

Real maple syrup is one of the secret weapons in my kitchen. A bit of that flavor in an unexpected place can really make a dish.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:03 PM on April 6, 2008

'Twas a wise man who said:

"Roses are red, violets are purple.

Sugar’s sweet and so’s maple surple."

posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:08 PM on April 6, 2008

Oh man, I went to a cabane à sucre last weekend. Seriously, Quebec, the syrup was great and all but the food that comes with it?? Pork rinds? coleslaw? pickled beets? How do any of those things go with maple syrup?
posted by fermezporte at 4:36 PM on April 6, 2008

Dang me, crash, that was genius.

May I indulge in an obvious MetaCliché by saying...
MetaFilter: The sweet aroma of sap permeating the air
posted by wendell at 4:38 PM on April 6, 2008

Oh man, I went to a cabane à sucre last weekend. Seriously, Quebec, the syrup was great and all but the food that comes with it?? Pork rinds? coleslaw? pickled beets? How do any of those things go with maple syrup?

Pork Rinds and coleslaw, sure. Not pickled beets because those are disgusting and don't go with anything.
posted by pieoverdone at 4:38 PM on April 6, 2008

Elementary school field trips to a cabane à sucre + supervising adults who were busy talking amongst themselves during lunch + constantly refilled carafes of maple syrup on the table = us kids slamming back 4oz glasses of the stuff. Hell yeah.
posted by CKmtl at 4:39 PM on April 6, 2008

Oh, and a question for all you sugar shack experts. During the dessert part of the meal we were served a bowl filled with strange jelly-like maple sweetness. Any idea what it was?
posted by fermezporte at 4:56 PM on April 6, 2008

mmmmmmmmmmmmmaple yumminess.

i grew up in new england and i am *shocked* that history classes in schools when i was a kid did not even hint at the political history of maple syrup -- that maple-based sweeteners were pushed by abolitionists since it was not made by slave labor.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:08 PM on April 6, 2008

My favorite Galliano Cocktail is made with maple syrup.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:12 PM on April 6, 2008

I just drizzled a half-teaspoon of organic grade "A" dark amber on my ceviche taco ( scallops/onion/roasted corn kernels/cilantro/lime juice, wrapped up in a thin home-made waffle folded in half) -- instant faux-unagi goodness!
For dessert I'm having home-made rice pudding drizzled with a grade "B" dark amber-- I'm gonna carmelize it, if I can find my blow-torch.
posted by Dizzy at 5:24 PM on April 6, 2008

Anchor Steam with dinner. Mebbe an IPA with dessert. (I'm not sure about the IPA--- maybe a Bock? Is that too heavy?)
posted by Dizzy at 5:26 PM on April 6, 2008

fermezporte: Maple custard? I mostly remember seeing maple sugar tarts, grandpères, and maybe sometimes a (WTF NO MAPLE?!) rice pudding.
posted by CKmtl at 5:28 PM on April 6, 2008

I unfortunately spend about 100 dollars a year on Maple Syrup, eat it almost daily as a substitute for sugar. At $25 to $30 for a little bottle.

Grade B is far superior. It has less sugar, and more maple taste. Bold, strong rich maple taste. There is also a Grade C (for "Commercial") which is even stronger, but I have not been able to find any. I believe it is a conspiracy by the maple states to grade Maple Syrup with the best tasting at the lowest grade so they can offload the mostly sugary stuff to everyone else at high prices.
posted by stbalbach at 5:29 PM on April 6, 2008

Any recommendations for brands? I like Coombs Family Farms.
posted by stbalbach at 5:34 PM on April 6, 2008

Wonderful post, ericb.

On the abolitionist connection: check out this nice page on John Eastman, who celebrated maple sugaring as free labor in his paintings.

I've been fortunate to do maple sugaring two seasons in my life - once on a small-scale, kitchen level, and once with a respectable evaporator when I worked at an environmental education school. It's a magical experience. The aroma of woodsmoke + maple is one of the most heavenly on earth. And when you spend a day in a sugarhouse, you find that your hair and eyelashes are encrusted with fine sugar crystals by evening-time.

Serving pickles (not just cucumber pickles, any kind of vinegar-pickled vegetable) is a time-honored tradition. After a few tastes of maple syrup, the sweetness kind of deadens the whole palate, and you can re-awaken it with a sharp dose of pickle. In fact, at syrup tastings, you'll sometimes see syrup, pickes, saltine crackers, and coffee or coffee beans - you can actually map your tongue for the sweet, sour, salty, bitter receptors this way.

The maple sugar season is changing fast. Production is moving northward as global warming sets the season ever earlier for New England. We may be not that far from a time when "Vermont Maple Syrup" is a memory. I was just talking to a friend who set out for NH Maple Weekend last weekend - and found all the sugarhouses they went to already closed, the season over. I had gone the 2nd week in March and sap was running - they had started boiling off in mid-February. They may need to be moving Maple Weekend to an earlier spot in winter.
posted by Miko at 5:37 PM on April 6, 2008

As to grading: the time window for getting Grade B (dark) is much shorter than for A - that's why it's rarer. You get the fancy light syrups early in the season, then the ambers, then the darks at the very end. Sugar content is roughly the same for all grades of syrup (65-70%): what's different are the additional flavors found in the Grade B, the result of mineral compounds in sap that increase as the ground warms and the tree approaches its budding time.
posted by Miko at 5:44 PM on April 6, 2008

Self link, but within the blue.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:46 PM on April 6, 2008

Any recommendations for brands? I like Coombs Family Farms.

Try these people, They are local and mostly organic. They might even have some Grade B syrup.

Also, this year has been a record breaking year for maple syrup, at least in Vermont. Most sugarers have been sugaring for over a month without disruptions. Many have had to stop sugaring because they have run out of seasoned wood to burn to boil the sap. Look for a gut of syrup on the market and possible price reductions.
posted by Xurando at 6:48 PM on April 6, 2008

i heard on the radio that it's going pretty good in michigan too
posted by pyramid termite at 6:55 PM on April 6, 2008

It's going well here, too. But the global warming thing is still a longterm concern for maple producers, so enjoy it while it lasts. Fuel costs are hitting some producers hard too (don't build on that woodlot this year!).
posted by Miko at 7:09 PM on April 6, 2008

It's making me homesick too, thinking about the cabane a sucre, and fresh syrup poured into the snow to make delicious chewy treats, and the spring sun shining in a deep blue sky, casting sharp shadows on the bright white snow...

Well, it did snow in London a bit this morning, and I still have a bottle of real maple syrup from home... I'll mix up!
posted by generichuman at 11:37 PM on April 6, 2008

I approve of this post.

*takes another shot glass of maple syrup, well, maybe not just one, or two ....
posted by caddis at 1:07 AM on April 7, 2008

Some friends from MA recently sent some maple syrup over to the UK for me, the first I've had. I can't vouch for the purity of my pancakes but damn, maple syrup is good. I need to check the import/export regulations for when I visit in the summer.
posted by vbfg at 1:22 AM on April 7, 2008

Awesome post. I love maple syrup all out of proportion to its non-human status.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:38 AM on April 7, 2008

Times like this, I love living in Northern New England, even if it means long winters and mud season.

Re: Grade C. The USDA doesn't use "Grade C" for retail sale anymore, what used to be "Grade C" retail is now part of Grade B. The commercial "Grade C" is the end of the sap run, and is used for things like "real maple flavor" in cooking, you can buy in 40 gallon batches as a commodity.
posted by kaszeta at 5:53 AM on April 7, 2008

I happened to be in VT two weeks ago during the sugar festival in a town just down the road from where we were staying. We stopped in a sugar shack--Sprague and Sons, in Jacksonville VT--and it was just astounding. A tiny room, humid with maple-sweet steam that soaked your clothes and frizzed your hair, and a woman who could not possibly be happier to tell you all about sugaring. We stayed maybe 15 minutes, asked a hundred questions, watched them load logs into the boiler a few times (imagine adding wood to a fire every 5 minutes all day long; then do it for 6 or 8 weeks), and ate some delicious maple products.

I asked her about Grade B, and she told me they wouldn't run it til the end of the season. But she did insist that I take her email address, because she'd gladly ship me some when they had it. Said her son won't eat anything but. Smart man.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:19 AM on April 7, 2008

What a timely post. I just went to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival on Saturday, and got myself a stockpile of maple syrup, and indulged in maple taffy apples and maple sugar candies and maple taffy cones and maple syrup drenched apple fritters and lo, it was good.

As an aside, my 92 year old grandfather has had maple syrup almost every single day of his life. I sometimes wonder if that has something to do with his longevity...
posted by sandraregina at 6:45 AM on April 7, 2008

I'd tap it.

The roads all up and down where I live smell like smoke and sugar this time of year. Thanks for the post ericb.
posted by jessamyn at 7:31 AM on April 7, 2008

And we were at the the Marathon Maple Festival on Sunday. Also good.
posted by zamboni at 10:08 AM on April 7, 2008

MMm that is making me hungry
posted by sobegirl at 10:00 AM on April 8, 2008

What jessamyn said. Great post, ericb.

I enjoy watching the smoke rising from shacks up in the hills; spots one wouldn't think possible to reach. Unfortunately, from what my neighbors who sugar tell me, it was a crappy syrup year for them. Sometimes only half as much as the previous year. Which sucks for everyone.

... today was the first day I was able to leave the house without either wearing a jacket/sheatshirt; or bringing one for later. Spring is getting closer!
posted by terrapin at 7:25 PM on April 18, 2008

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