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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

Hello,

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!

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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.”