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Maple syrup producers having strong year, thanks to weather

Craig Line - Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Posted On Mon. Apr 11th, 2016 By :

CALAIS, Vt. (AP) — Some maple syrup makers in Vermont, the country’s largest producer, are having a banner year despite initial fears that an early start to the maple season this winter would cut it short.

The warm weather in late March and early April didn’t bring an end to the maple sap gathering season, and recent cold temperatures have extended the time that sap is flowing in maple trees, syrup producers said Monday.

“I’ve made twice as much syrup as last year so it’s much better,” said Eric Remick, owner of Sweet Stone Maple Farm in Hardwick.

Remick, who has been sugaring for about 11 years, said last year tied for a previous record low year of production for him but this year “I’ve tied my previous all-time high record.”

Officials in the maple-rich state say it’s too early to tell how the quantity of syrup will affect prices for consumers of the sweet stuff, which retails for an average of about $49 a gallon in Vermont and can be used to pour over pancakes, sweeten oatmeal or jazz up a pecan pie.

It takes warm days and cold nights for maple sap to flow, but too much warmth – and the appearance of buds on maple trees – brings a quick end to the season.

This year, some maple syrup producers, typically larger operations with tens of thousands of taps, plastic tubing and vacuum systems, took advantage of a January warmup and tapped trees early.

Corse Maple Farm, which has about 12,500 taps in Whitingham, a town on the Massachusetts border, has had its biggest season ever due to a combination of the favorable weather and technological advancements in the industry, owner Roy Corse said.

Even smaller operations that use buckets on trees plus tubing to collect sap and started later, like in March, are reporting sweet yields.

“There’ve been some sap runs, I mean bigger than I’ve ever seen,” said Craig Line, owner of Kent’s Corner Sugarhouse in Calais, who’s been sugaring for 38 years.

On some days, Line said, he couldn’t keep up with the volume of sap that was flowing and was ready to be boiled into syrup.

The season, which ran about three weeks last year, is extending into two and half months for some sugarers.

“It’s been almost a season with three acts in it,” said Timothy Perkins, director of the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill. “We collected (sap) the first week of February and boiled at that point and then waited a few weeks and had a bunch more and waited a few weeks and now we’re sort of at the end of yet another waiting period and hopefully we’ll be back in business here shortly.”

New Syrup Grades

Craig Line - Sunday, March 15, 2015
Beginning last year, and required of sugarmakers in Vermont this year, are a set of new, theoretically more descriptive grades for maple syrup.  The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association and the state Department of Agriculture held hearings, involved focus groups and considered many suggestions and ideas, and boiled it all down to new terms that include both color and flavor for Vermont's most iconic product.  I must admit that I am still not entirely on board with this change, but then this seems to be a more common issue for me as I approach curmudgeonliness more and more every day. And, as a syrup producer who markets syrup in stores and now online, I am required to comply. Oh, well, syrup by any other name will still taste as sweet...

For many years, Vermont maple syrup has been divided into one of four grades based on color and flavor. As consumer preference has changed over the past century, so too has the grading system evolved to provide a more accurate description based on consumer preference. The names of each grade, however, did not necessarily provide a meaningful description of the syrup. For instance, with no prior knowledge of maple syrup grades, Grade B does not mean much other than suggesting it might be of a lesser quality than Grade A.

Beginning last year, and required starting in 2015, Vermont maple syrup producers will use a new grading system that will provide a better description of each grade, or class, or syrup. Each grade will consist of both a color and flavor descriptor:

Grade A:  Golden Color with Delicate Taste (formerly called Fancy)

Grade A:  Amber Color with Rich Taste

Grade A:  Dark Color with Robust Taste

Grade A: Very Dark Color with Strong Taste (formerly called Grade C)

The chart below shows the new grades in comparison to the previous grades. In the new system, there are 4 grades rather than 5, and what was known as Grade C, formerly available only for commercial use, will now be available for retail sale.





Season's Starting!

Craig Line - Thursday, March 12, 2015


I wanted to let you all know that the new sugaring season is underway! Well, at least sort of… After a couple days in the 40’s, even all the way up to 50 degrees on Monday (!) it’s now back down to what we here in Vermont have been used to this winter: a high today of 24. Actually, we would have paid a lot of money for a day in the 20’s for most of January and February. There was a stretch of 6 weeks when it never got as high as freezing in many parts of the state. Needless to say, what sap there is is frozen up again, but there’s a decided difference in the days—even today the sun turned the back roads into slippery mud, although not as badly as on Monday.

We have been tapping away in the woods, and fixing up mainlines where they were taken down by falling trees and limbs during winter storms, and generally getting organized and ready for the season. I have purchased lots of supplies: sap filters, tubing and fittings for replacing and fixing up some of the more than 900 taps on those systems, syrup jugs, and more. We haven't yet put up any of the 150 buckets, but before we do, I'll have to head out along the road with the bucket loader to make some paths into the 5-foot-high snowbanks out there. A couple weeks ago 4 or 5 friends came over to help me split up the rest of the sugarwood and move it into the sugarhouse, I brushed the flues and so with just a little more organizing out there, we should be ready to boil when it begins to run in earnest.

 So, when will that be? Temperatures are supposed to moderate this coming weekend, albeit with some more snow, then it’ll likely get colder again towards the middle of next week. You’ll have to stay tuned. All I know is that after a long winter, it feels really good to be getting outside into the woods every day, even though it is a struggle at times to be wading through almost 4 feet of snow out there (sugaring: my annual spring fitness program!)

The days are definitely getting longer now, and the sun warmer, and it was really nice to see sap dripping out of the holes as soon as we drilled them the other day. Before we know it, we’ll hear the first red-winged blackbird, and see the first robin, Canada geese will be flying north overhead, and without realizing it, spring will be happening all around us.

This year, I am more fully participating in the annual Open Sugarhouse Weekend sponsored by the Vermont Maple Sugarmakers' Association, to be held this year on Saturday and Sunday, March 28th and 29th. I'll be open for visitors those days from 1-5 pm, with sugarhouse snacks and hopefully, with cooperative weather, a tank full of sap for boiling into hot, fresh maple syrup!  Of course, anytime I'm boiling, I welcome visitors, that's half of why I do it! It's a great, fun, optimistic time of year, and I find it's a lot more enjoyable when the whole community is involved. I'll most likely have another Open Sugarhouse gathering in April, I'll let you know when that will be based on the weather.

Here's to another sweet season!

Maple Sugaring in Vermont

Craig Line - Tuesday, January 06, 2015

In this blog, I plan to occasionally post notes about sugaring, which has become pretty much a year-round enterprise for me, as well as notes about nature, musings about things that I notice around me, photographs, poems and artwork, and occasional pieces written by others, including links to other sites that I think people might find interesting.

When I was a kid growing up in Northwest Ohio in the 1960’s, I remember tapping a couple maple trees (who cared if they were Silver Maples?) with my Grandpa Line in the front yard of the home on Washington Avenue in Findlay where he and Grandma lived, and where my dad and his sister grew up. We grand kids hung a few buckets, and tasted the sap, and helped boil it down in a big kettle down cellar on the old electric range where Grandma canned so many quarts of vegetables, applesauce and jars of jelly, the steam filling the basement with the sweet smell of maple.

Grandpa had grown up on the family farm just south of town that was homesteaded by our ancestors in 1840, and sugar maples were tapped down by Eagle Creek every spring, the sap collected from the wooden buckets with a team of horses. The syrup was boiled down in a sugarhouse that no longer exists, the fire fueled by natural gas, as there was a well on the farm that provided free heat in the winter and avoided the need to cut wood to make syrup. The last year syrup was made on the Line Homestead in Arlington was 1957, when I was not quite 2 years old.

Every Christmas, my Grandma Boice, my mother’s mother, would give a quart of real Vermont maple syrup to my dad, and that quart would last almost a year, as none of us 3 kids were allowed to touch it unless Dad said we could. He would occasionally make sourdough pancakes on a Saturday morning, and would now and then make a freezer of homemade ice cream, and I remember well the amazing taste of real maple syrup on those treats. Of course, like most families of that era, and perhaps too many households today, our usual syrup was that which today I just cannot stand: Aunt Jemima’s, Log Cabin, or Mrs. Butterworth’s.

So, when I moved to Vermont in 1978, and began sugaring with the crew at Farm and Wilderness Camps in Plymouth in the spring of 1979, I was not only so happy to have a steady diet of the real thing, but to be able to provide real maple syrup to my mom and dad, brother, sister and other family members and friends. Half the reason I make maple syrup is to be able to share it with others; the rest has to do with supplying my own near-insatiable taste for it, and just being outside enjoying the lengthening days and changing seasons, after what are often long, cold winters here in northern New England.

At F & W, I learned about using tubing as well as buckets, and how to boil in an evaporator; we had a 3 x 10’ rig there, and I was bitten hard by the fun process of working together with good friends, with the end result being maple syrup! How can one not love that? Now that I tap just over 1000, it is a lot more work—I often describe my operation as a hobby run amok—but the basic joys are the same: spending time outside in Vermont, being in touch with the natural world around me, working together with good friends, to make what is probably the most iconic, best-known product made in Vermont.

During the season, I will let you know when I begin to tap out, how much snow we’ve had, when I plan to boil and or have an open sugarhouse gathering and more. Eventually, there will be a page with information on how you can order pure Vermont maple syrup, either to pick up here at the sugarhouse in Calais, or for delivery. I’ll begin in this current season as we head into deep winter by catching up a bit and posting essays or updates which I have written and emailed out in previous years.

The most important aspect of making syrup, after the joys of working together with neighbors and friends, is the quality and flavor of the syrup we produce here. I have received a lot of feedback from people about how much they enjoy the taste of our syrup, and I am humbled and pleased by that. I know that I like the taste, and that many others do as well gives me great joy.

Here’s to another great season this coming year!

Sugaring with Craig

Craig Line - Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Craig Line empties sap buckets near his sugarhouse in Calais on Thursday.
Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
By TOM SLAYTON - Published: April 5, 2009

The Vermont landscape in early spring is a study in browns and grays – winter-battered fields and stark stands of bare trees, with patches of grimy, weathered snow tucked into the shady corners of barns and houses and along the forest edges.

Even out at Maple Corners, in summer one of the prettiest spots in the state, it looks pretty grim now. The fields and hillsides have emerged from winter, but look beaten by it, bare and bruised. The countryside won't assume its lush-green pastoral appearance for several weeks.

Still, this is the season of hope – some hope, anyway – because the days are longer and the snow is almost gone. It is undeniably spring: mud season, sugaring season, time for the first crop of the year, maple syrup.

There's a knot of people standing beside a mud-spattered truck outside Craig Line's sugarhouse, which is just up the road from Kents’ Corner. Two men, two women, all wearing the uniform of backroads Vermont – blue jeans, flannel shirts, baseball caps and, because it's early spring, mud boots.

The sugarhouse is cold and there's ice in the boiling pans. No steam is issuing from the vented cupola on the roof. But Tony has a fire started in the arch and Craig has just arrived with a truckload of fresh sap from trees he taps over in Adamant.

Appearances and frozen sap to the contrary, the evening's boil has begun.

And though the road is still muddy and very soft, it's been a great day – bright, sunny, the first really warm day since last fall. Last night was starry and cold. The combination of cold nights and warm days makes the sap rise and flow from sugar maples into pails and pipes and tubing – nature's spring alchemy. Then the sugarmaker creates some sweet-smelling alchemy of his own; he applies fire to the sap and it boils. And after a time, the result is maple syrup.

Tony and Craig have been chunking four-foot logs of maple and cherry into the "arch" – the firebox directly under the shining stainless steel boiling pans. The ice in the pans has melted. Soon steam is wafting upward, and then, as the fire really gets going, the sap starts to bubble and jump and foam – it's boiling!

It's got to boil down a lot. As every Vermont schoolchild knows, it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one of syrup.

Last year, Craig tapped more than 900 trees and made 144 gallons of syrup. That's a lot of sap to haul and boil. Sugaring is an incredibly work-intensive process and you can't count your time in the fiscal equation. There's a saying: "You can buy maple syrup for $50 a gallon – or make it yourself for $80 a gallon!"

Fortunately, most sugarmakers love the activity after a long winter. "It's my springtime fitness program," says Craig, who is affable, bearded and (fortunately) energetic. He's a professional photographer – has worked for Associated Press and free-lanced for magazines like Vermont Life and others. But come spring, he's a sugarmaker.

He's originally from Ohio where, believe it or not, they make a lot of maple syrup. He has a sample bottle from his family's sugaring operation there, dated 1957. It's pretty dark, compared to the bright-amber bottles from this year and other years here in Vermont. All the bottles are lined up along the windows. With the sunlight streaming through them, they give a bright, attractive record of every year's sugarmaking. One year has only a half-dozen bottles. "Each bottle is a different boil," Craig explains. "That was a bad year."

Sugarmakers are eternal optimists, and Craig is convinced this year will be a good year. He's already made more than 100 gallons, so he may be right.

Soon the sap is boiling busily – perhaps a bit too busily. It's leaping and foaming dramatically as the fire roars underneath, sparks funnel up through the chimney, and the sugarhouse gets toasty-warm.

"You've got to keep it down a little or it'll boil right over – out of the pan. And that makes an awful mess," Craig says He flicks a few drops of canola oil onto the foaming sap and it subsides a bit. Some sugarmakers will boil a hot dog in the sap to render the few drops of grease to break the surface tension and calm the foam. (And for a snack.) Basic backyard chemistry.

Boiling sap is a dynamic process. You've got to keep the fire stoked and roaring to boil the sap down. But you don't want to boil the sugary liquid over or boil the pan dry. Too much fire and too little sap and Craig could ruin his pan. And so he watches carefully, especially toward the end of the boil, when he's running out of sap. Then he controls the fire by burning sticks and slabs – not the big, hefty chunks that he uses to get the boil going.

How hot does it get? When he's feeding the fire, Craig usually wears longjohns – not, God knows, because he's cold, but to insulate his legs from the fiery-hot jeans that result from getting close to the blaze. Last year, he was wearing chainsaw chaps to shield his legs from the heat. They worked just fine until they caught on fire! He tore them off and tossed them outside into a snowbank. Problem solved.

Craig has two pans – a big "back pan" and a smaller, "front pan" divided into four long channels that the sap can flow through. As the sap in the back pan boils down, he opens a valve that lets it run into the front pan where it will boil down still further and he can control it more precisely.

He measures its viscosity and sugar content with a hydrometer – a thermometer-like gauge that floats in sap in a tall, thin metal cup. The State Agriculture Department sells the gauges, which help them standardize and regulate the sugarmaking process across dozens of private operations, mostly small, mostly independently owned, all across the state. Vermont is known for its maple syrup and has a lot invested in making sure everyone produces a quality product.

When the sap is just below boiling, a red line on the hydrometer has to float right on the surface of the liquid before it can be drawn off, canned, and sold as syrup.

We're getting close to that point. Craig is testing the syrup's viscosity frequently, and the sugarhouse that was chilly an hour ago is warm and moist – filled with sweet-smelling maple vapor. The rest of us are standing around, sipping beers, soaking up the wood heat and maple smells, watching Craig work. He never stops moving.

Kids are playing hide-and-seek around us all this time, scampering over the woodpile, zipping in one side of the sugarhouse, then out the other, then hiding in the woods. An air of pleasant chaos reigns. One lad wants to know "how it works."

"I've been trying to figure that out for 30 years myself!," Craig grins. And we all laugh.

And I always come across good stories – little slices of rural life that I find interesting.

Craig, for example, built his sugarhouse himself, poured the slab and built it from the ground up. He financed most of the construction himself, and got a good deal on the pans from an older sugarmaker up north. But he came up a little short, and so needed to borrow a few thousand dollars to complete the project. Instead of going to the bank, he approached his friends and neighbors up in Calais and East Montpelier, and soon he had several partners.

The sugarhouse was completed and Craig paid back a portion of each loan annually, with some of the money he earned from selling syrup. Each partner also got three gallons of top-grade maple syrup free. As interest on the loan.

"I told one of the partners the syrup was their interest," Craig says. "They said, 'Heck that's a better deal than we could get from the bank!'"

Finally, it's ready. Opening another valve, he draws off a bucket of cloudy, steaming syrup which he tests, then pours into a filtering tank. The syrup drains through a folded length of pure-white Orlon felt, leaving behind a square glob of mud-brown nitre. And then he turns a little tap and out flows new maple syrup – warm, fragrant, amber and sweet.

The sun is slipping behind the bare trees on the hill to the west and long shadows are creeping across the old snow outside as we lift tiny bottles of the fresh, warm syrup to our lips. It's ambrosia – the first taste of spring.

Why do I do this, anyway? Since college days at UVM 40-plus years ago, I have gone in search of sugarhouses. There's something I can't explain, some visceral urge to stand next to a roaring fire and bathe in maple-scented vapor, that hits me every spring. Geese fly north; I head for the nearest sugarhouse.

It may be just an excuse to get out of the house at the end of a long winter. I love deep winter, cold, harsh, snowy and beautiful. But I love spring more. And visiting a sugarhouse is one way to savor the beginnings of spring.

Maybe it's the sudden reappearance of water. Running water is scarce in deep winter. Sure it brings mud to the roads in March and April, but it also brings life back to the land. And sap to the trees.

Maybe it's just an excuse to stand around with other Vermonters (native-born or honorary), sip a beer, and watch someone else work. But it's satisfying and I really wouldn't recognize early spring without it.

There must be a dozen sugarhouses within 10 miles of Montpelier. Some, like Morse Farm and Bragg Farm are bigger commercial operations. Some, these days, are even computerized. I love visiting them all; they all fascinate and entertain me. And at the heart of each one is the elemental mystery of boiling tree sap to create an incredibly delicious product, the essence of the most hopeful season of the year.


Craig Line - Thursday, February 28, 2013

It was disclosed today that the previously reported Great Maple Syrup Heist of 2012 has reached its ugly tentacles further than what was previously known, deep into the heart of Vermont Maple Country, all the way south from Montreal, Quebec to that bastion of independent, free-thinking progenitors of the sweet pancake condiment in Calais, Vermont.

It has been purported that one of the previously-thought-to-be squeaky-clean proprietors of a back-woods sugaring operation, he of the hardly-known Kents’ Corner Sugarhouse, Greg Lyons, has taken a turn toward the dark side, allegedly purchasing several tractor trailer tanker loads of what is now known to be stolen maple syrup from warehouses outside Montreal.

“It was just more than he could resist,” offered spokesman Wally Bevins, after first issuing a curt “No comment” during a hastily called press conference this morning.

“He was suspicious of the sweet stuff, sure, and questioned the driver, known only as ‘Jacques,’ but after such a disastrous season last year, it was just too tempting. I mean, maple syrup offered for sale for as little as $3.00 a gallon? C’mon, would any of you ask from where it had come? I don’t think so…”

Apparently Lyons, said Bevins, first thought the large tanker truck pulling into his driveway last summer was a lost milk truck, looking for the dairy farm up the road. But, when the driver emerged from the cab, speaking only some rural, guttural dialect of Quebecois French and with an obviously very sticky substance dripping from his beard, Lyons began to realize all was not as it first appeared.

After first attempting to offer the vagabond driver a plateful of his best buckwheat cakes, or at least maple-walnut French Toast (appropriately enough, he thought) Lyons soon realized that the driver was in fact just anxious to consummate the deal, so against his better judgment, or perhaps because of it, he offered to buy the entire truckload for the absurd sum of $7,462, quickly calculating in his head that when resold at his usual highly inflated retail prices, he stood to realize a profit in the tens of dollars, far more than is typical in any sugaring operation.
That is what tipped off authorities, Bevins said. “The guy was obviously living high on the hog—throwing lavish parties, hob-knobbing with the rich and famous, flying to places like Rio and Hawai’i on a moment’s notice. With his primary income supposedly coming from making maple syrup, it just didn’t all add up…”
“And, he didn’t even taste the stuff,” said Bevins. “He’s never really been that concerned with how his syrup is produced or tastes anyway, so why would this be any different?”
Lyons quickly offered to buy more of the pilfered pancake topping, arranging delivery of future truckloads with “Jacques” in a few weeks’ time, after he was able to install several underground storage tanks.

“With my basement as full of junk as it is, and with the need to keep this stuff out of sight, I took the risk of being spotted engaging in unlawful excavation by the local design review board, or the Vermont Land Trust, but fortunately, those guys were asleep at the wheel as usual…”

“Who cares where it came from or who made it? I mean, syrup is syrup, right? It’s all the same—from New York state, New Hampshire, Vermont,  Quebec, Log Cabin, my Aunt Jemimah …” Bevins quoted Lyons as uttering as he was handcuffed and stuffed into the back seat of a Washington County Sheriff’s Dep’t patrol car pulled from speed trap duty on the County Road.

Bevins said that Lyons was served with Grand Jury indictments, habeas corpus documents and a menu from the Wayside Restaurant in Berlin, Vermont and is awaiting processing and arraignment at an undisclosed Border Patrol holding cell. His fate at this time, just as another maple season is almost upon us, is unknown.


For more information, please contact Mr. Lyons’s attorney, Mr. Freshly Crisp-Herald, esq.

Maple and Mustard Roasted Root Vegetables

Craig Line - Thursday, December 06, 2012

Recipe by Jolinda Hackett, vegetarian food expert at

Yields 6 servings.

1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion or 20 pearl onions, peeled
5 cups coarsely chopped or sliced veggies of your choice; turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, carrot, potato, yams, beets and/or golden beets.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss veggies and onions with the olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking pan. Roast in oven for 20 minutes, then remove and re-toss on baking sheet. Cook 15 minutes more. Toss again. Cook another 15 min. Combine maple syrup, Dijon mustard and garlic powder in a small bowl. Drizzle the maple mixture over potatoes and veggies and mix to coat well. Cook again until veggies (beets and potatoes will take the longest) are soft and glaze starts to caramelize and brown a bit.

Serve and enjoy!

Sugarhouse Steamer

Craig Line - Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Serves 1

2 T. pure Vermont maple syrup
pure granulated Vermont maple sugar
whipped cream
Viennese coffee (prepared instant or with an espresso machine)
steamed or scalded milk

Pour the maple syrup into the bottom of a mug. Add coffee and pour in the milk. Top with whipped cream and a generous sprinkling of granulated maple sugar. Enjoy!





History of Maple

A native Chief returning to his village after a hunting trip threw his tomahawk into a sugar maple tree trunk. The spring sun warmed the tree and sap ran down the bark from the cut the tomahawk had made and into a birch bark container left under the tree. Thinking the crystal clear sap was water, the Chief’s wife poured it in with some meat she was cooking. As the water boiled away, a sticky sweet glaze formed on the meat, adding a wonderfully sweet maple flavor to the meal.

When settlers came with metal tools, they drilled small holes in the trees, whittled wooden spouts and replaced the wooden troughs used by Native Peoples with wooden buckets and covers. They made their maple sugar in large iron kettles suspended over a fire by wooden poles or tripods. Making maple sugar was common in Vermont, being some distance from any seaport where white sugar was imported. 

As maple sugaring evolved, arches were built, containing the heat from roaring wood fires and holding large flat pans on top. Buildings to house these “boilers” was the next step. Sugarhouses today still resemble those early structures with the characteristic cupola on the roof allowing the sweet maple scented steam to billow forth.

To find out how Vermont sugarmakers make our maple syrup today click on “How We Make It.”