Before I jump into today's post, I wanted to say thank you for such connection and understanding on my last post. Really generous thoughts were shared by many of you and I'm grateful. xo
If you blinked, you might have missed sugaring season this year. Leading up to it, after the ho-hum winter we’ve had, sugarmakers throughout the northeast and beyond just weren’t sure how good it would be. When we first tapped, the trees quickly gave up over 40 gallons of sap in under 24 hours. In theory, yielding that kind of sap (on most days) over a 2-3 week period could produce quite a nice amount of syrup. But there wasn’t a "feeling in the air" for a bumper crop in the maple syrup world this year. And as suspected, sugaring season in our region didn’t pan out as one would hope. Although we did have a storybook sugar snow one afternoon, leaving behind a sticky white blanket that quieted our world as only snow can. Through the hush of fresh snow, the only sound to be heard was plink, plink, plink... sap falling into buckets. It was an idyllic moment, for sure.
Then the weather became temperamental (too cold during the day and windy); we had a full six days of barely flowing sap and collected only another forty gallons during that time. It was just too cold. We were nostalgic for the abundance of opening day. Fits and spurts - that was the theme for this year.
My uncle’s guru reputation precedes him in the maple world around here; when he speaks, we all listen. His information is always useful, prophetic at times, and steeped in decades of sugaring experience. He took this year off from tapping, but is still very much in the loop as far as sugaring community news. He shared with us that a friend of his reported producing two grades of syrup this year - dark, and driveway sealer. A degree of dark he had never seen before. In a more typical year, we can produce anywhere from two to even four “grades” (color) of maple syrup, depending on which point in the season the sap was harvested. (There is also some grade variation that comes into play if sap sits for a longer period of time before boiling, but generally the color has to do with timing in the season. Early season syrup tends to be the lightest, and it proceeds from there, getting darker as the weeks goes on.)
Our low tech filtering process in the bottom two left-hand photos. This is our screen porch. That pole stays up year round as we hang garlic from it in the summer, hunting clothes during November, and syrup filters in March. Who knew it could be so handy! Highly recommend the wool felt filter with liners. The combination produced our clearest syrup to date.
Is this a whole lot of maple geekery to take in? Maybe next year I’ll create a video during sugaring season, sharing the entire process, all the way from tapping to filling the pantry shelves... now that should fully illustrate our obsession! Or, maybe it would be useful to someone. We’ll see.
In the end, we were mostly in line with other sugarmakers reporting “dark, and driveway sealer,” this year. We’ve never seen anything like it. We did produce a small batch of A grade (light) with our first boil, but no Fancy this year (lightest). After the batch of A grade, things darkened pretty quickly. All told, it was not a very productive season. Just as my uncle predicted. Of course. For now, our pantry is filled with about seven gallons of this liquid gold (and a small bit of driveway sealer), and we were able to set some aside for gift giving, as well.
Since we started producing maple syrup it's become just about all we use for sweetener, save for some holiday and special occasion baking. I'm asked a lot how to substitute maple syrup in any recipe, I'll explain below how we do it.
Substitute Maple Syrup for Sugar in Baking
- I usually use about 3/4 cup syrup for every cup of sugar called for.
- Reduce liquid in recipe by 3 tbsp per cup of syrup. Adjust that number accordingly if you're using less than a full cup.
- Reduce oven temperature by 25ºF as maple syrup caramelizes at a lower temperature than sugar does.
Producing sweetener from the land, with no special crop planted or any real maintenance involved... it never gets old. In fact, it's one of the most fulfilling things we do around here. Cheers to another good season, and cheers to a fresh supply of syrup. And hey, if our driveway needs any maintenance we've got that covered, too.