Gimme some (maple) sugar!

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Silver and red maple trees in my back yard, awaiting a tap. (Astrid Lium photos)

I grew up in Vermont, the maple capital of the United States. The humble Green Mountain State‘s 5% of the world’s syrup of the gods beats out its 49 competitors for that sweet title. Québec has a stake on about three-quarters of the globes syrup supply, which is partly why I attended university in Montréal.

I was eleven years old before I tried a cheap fancy Grade A knockoff. While on a school trip in Rhode Island the class enjoyed pancakes and what resembled bona fide syrup. The mystery substance made me nauseous. I had seen Aunt Jemima on the shelf at White’s, but never had she made her way into our pantry. The only syrup I knew came from St. Johnsbury’s own Maple Grove Farms or from a Hardwick sugar shack (that town exports goods besides sophomoric “Hardwick jokes”).

I quickly returned to that sugary friend upon our return to Vermont.

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Three taps for two trees. They are available online and at most hardware stores for about $2 each.

When I moved to Massachusetts, known more for oysters and chowdah than syrup, I brought my dark amber with me. Then I met a man who tapped his own trees and made his own syrup (about one quart of it, anyway) every spring. I fell in love with him, even before I discovered this sugaring hobby of his.

2013 marks the fourth consecutive season that my Maine-iac maple man (“As Maine goes, so goes Vermont“?) and I have made sweet syrup, albeit in small doses. Keep in mind that the sap:syrup boiling ratio is about 40:1.

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Every sugaring experience may be somewhat different, but ours is simple, cheap (sorta), and easy. I just read a Yankee Magazine article about a Vermont sugaring family who uses reverse osmosis to reduce fuel, improve efficiency, and expedite the process. I’m jealous. I wish that I had reverse osmosis…or even knew exactly what is was.

To get started, this is what we needed:

  • 40-degree days and freezing nights
  • Maple trees (one silver, one red)
  • 5-gallon Ace Hardware bucket (brand optional; I receive no compensation from Ace for my plug.)
  • 3/8″ drill
  • Hammer
  • Taps
  • Extension cords connecting the drill to the nearest outlet

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Find a spot on the tree to drill, deep enough to fit a tap. On the red maple, we drilled two holes. (If a tree is 19-25 inches in diameter, two is recommended. You can find more on hobby sugaring.)

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Philosophize with a hammer…hard enough to secure the tap.

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On an early-March morning, with temps running in the low-40s, the sap should start flowing immediately. We always have better, faster results with the red maple.

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Voilà! The first part of the sugaring-in-our-back-yard-in-Boston process is complete.

More to come as the days grow longer, warmer, and sweeter…

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