Just the other day, while Papa and I drove down that winding road that passes our country home, I noticed something that caused me to do a double take. Good thing I wasn’t driving!
Nearby neighbors are tapping a maple tree in their yard. And by tapping, I don’t mean they were knocking on the tree bark, or smacking it lightly with a tool. Instead, a maple syrup tap was attached to the tree in order for sap to flow from the inside of the tree to an attached container.
Of course, I knew about tapping maples in spring to gather sap for making pure maple syrup, but this is the first time I can remember actually seeing someone nearby performing this spring-time task.
Tapping trees for syrup usually begins in late February or early March when tap holes are drilled into the trees. By the way, doing so does not harm the tree in any way. After a metal or plastic spout is hammered into the hole, a covered bucket is hung to collect the sap, and plastic tubing is attached from the spout to the container.
So what exactly is maple sap and why must it be collected each day? Maple trees store a combination of water in their roots. During the summer time, the trees produce natural maple sugar. As winter wanes and the weather begins warming, water flows up from the tree roots, combining with the natural sugar, and a thin, clear sap is produced.
When the sap freezes at night, then thaws the next day, it is pushed out into the spout and drips into the bucket. But sap needs to be collected each day because until it is boiled, it is perishable, so it can be a time-consuming task, both in acquiring enough sap and actually boiling and bottling the syrup.
A few years ago, Papa and I embarked on an early summer vacation to New England with stops in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. One of our visits included a trip to a maple syrup/cheese making farm in the Green Mountain State.
We traveled back some country roads which eventually deposited us at our destination, Sugarbush Farm, a family-owned venture where they make delicious cheeses, wax coated by hand, and tap acres of maple trees to produce pure syrup.
The farm, owned and operated by the Luce family since 1945, is located off the beaten path near Woodstock, Vermont, but is so worthy of a visit.
Upon entering the farm’s work room, which is open to the public, we were greeted warmly and asked if we’d like to try some cheese samples. Not an easy decision when there were 15 different kinds of cheese all made right there on the farm.
After we sampled several cheeses and declared all delicious, we learned facts about the 100% natural maple syrup the farm produces each year. Beforehand, we never knew that there are actually four different grades of syrup based on the color and intensity of flavor: Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark. And we sampled each of the four.
Golden is described as having a “delicate taste,” not as much flavor and suggested for pouring over ice cream or yogurt. It is made early in the season. Amber is a bit darker (light amber in color) and has a “rich taste” or a more classic maple syrup flavor.
Dark definitely had a more pronounced maple flavor, described as a “robust taste,” and is, of course, darker in color. Apparently, when weather gets warmer as spring progresses and trees begin producing buds, the syrup tapped from the tree has a darker color and a stronger maple flavor.
And then there is Very Dark – whew, to say it has a “strong taste” is putting it mildly. Those who prefer a very strong maple flavor may like it on their pancakes, waffles, etc., but it is used more often in cooking for glazes, sauces, or in pies, and can actually be a substitute for granulated sugar. It was too strong for our likes. We preferred the Golden or Dark.
We took a self-guided tour of the syrup producing area of the farm, including the Sugarhouse, and came away with a new-found appreciation for pure maple syrup. And after visiting the gift shop, we brought several containers of Sugarbush Farm’s syrup and delicious cheese home with us.
Our enlightenment about maple syrup included learning how healthy it actually can be as opposed to the man-made artificial maple syrups so readily available in grocery stores and much cheaper to purchase. It’s true pure maple syrup is a tad expensive, but it is a 100% natural food since no preservatives, added sugars, or artificial coloring is added.
But who knew that pure maple syrup, especially the darker grade, also gives us quite a few health benefits? It contains minerals like zinc and manganese which help our immune systems and heart health. It also contains 24 polyphenol antioxidants that reduce inflammation in our bodies and can fight the effects of arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and heart concerns.
Research also indicates that maple syrup is a less harmful sugar because of its antioxidants and can protect our bodies’ cells from DNA damage and may have protective effects on brain cells as well. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to get all the help I can on protecting my brain cells!
All of this tells me one thing: don’t be a sap. Spend the money for pure maple syrup, a God-given gift to us, instead of the cheaper, fake versions.
Admittance to Sugarbush Farm is free and samples are also free. You can order their products online too. For more information on Sugarbush Farm, click here. (This post is also my own opinion about Sugarbush Farms; I received no incentive, monetary or otherwise, to write about this Vermont treasure.)
“Sugaring season is the season when you tap the trees for sugar that turns into maple syrup. I’ve married someone from Vermont, so it’s an expression I kept hearing, and I’m like, ‘What is that? That’s just so beautiful.’ I like the idea it’s the very, very first murmurings of spring.” ~ Beth Orton