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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.”

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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.”