Maple Sugaring Season in New England (sorry, Auntie Jemima)
When I was a kid, Aunt Jemima was a staple in my mom’s pantry. I put it on my pancakes, on my “leggo my Eggos”… mmmm, mm. Pass the syrup please! Then in my 20’s while living in New Hampshire, I discovered MAPLE syrup. Wait, what? Aunt Jemima’s not real syrup? Yes, that’s right. There’s something out there called MAPLE syrup. It comes from trees. It’s all natural. It costs a FORTUNE. But like any luxury, once you try it, you’ll never go back.
In New England, February through April is maple sugaring season. I think it’s sort of our little reward as hearty New Englanders – benefiting from this sweet season just when we’re all on the cusp of the winter emotional breaking point. Vermont is New England’s – make that America’s – largest producer of maple syrup at 500,000 gallons per year (albeit a distant world-ranked second behind Quebec which produces 79% of the world’s maple syrup). New Hampshire produces 90,000 and Massachusetts generates 50,000 gallons – enough to keep New England dentists very comfortable through retirement age.
Some neat facts about maple syrup:
- Sugaring was discovered by Native Americans who then taught the first English settlers.
- The trunk of the maple tree needs to be at least 10-12” in diameter to be tapped. That means it takes at least 40 years for that tree to produce.
- The best sugaring conditions are warm days and cold nights so the sap flow starts and stops with the rising and falling temperatures.
- It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.
- Once the Maple buds grow, sugaring season is over.
- March is the best month for sugaring.
- Grade A is premium and Light or Medium Amber varieties are consumer favorites, produced earlier in the season, while Dark Amber tends to be a bit rich for our tastes.
Some neat (scary?) facts about Aunt Jemima:
- INGREDIENTS: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, water (well, there you go – check off one all natural ingredient), cellulose gum, caramel color, salt (c’mon – give ’em some natural points there), sodium benzoate and sorbic acid (preservatives), artificial and natural (hooray!) flavors, sodium hexametaphosphate (say that five times fast).
- When introduced in the 60’s, it did in fact contain real maple syrup – a whopping 15%. However, by the 70’s, the brand wizards at these food conglomerates decided it really wasn’t necessary to include the real deal when the artificial concoction tasted just as well.
Now when I look at my kids while I drizzle this beautiful sweetness over their pancakes or waffles, I think to myself, “These little people have no idea how lucky they are.” And then I shiver as the words come out of my mouth: “You know guys, back when I was a kid…”
So cheers to the sugar shacks and maple farmers of New England! Now head on out for some sweet and delicious family fun!
Drumlin Farms: Maple Magic, Lincoln
Sat, March 5:
Groundwork Somerville: The Maple Syrup Boil Down , Somerville
Verrill Farms: Pancake Breakfast!, Concord
Ipswich River: Sugaring Off Tours, Topsfield
Sat-Sun March 12-13:
Thur, March 17:
Habitat: How Sweet it Is, Belmont