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!

Fri, March 4:

Drumlin Farms: Maple Magic, Lincoln

Sat, March 5:

Natick Community Organic Farm: Maple Magic Day, Natick

Groundwork Somerville: The Maple Syrup Boil Down , Somerville

Verrill Farms: Pancake Breakfast!, Concord

Boston Nature Center: Winter Trees & Maple Syrup, Mattapan

Weekends March 5-20:

Ipswich River: Sugaring Off Tours, Topsfield

Saturdays through March 12:

Wayland Winter Farmers’ Market

Sat, March 12:

Habitat: Sugaring Celebration Session 1 from 10 a.m. to noon and Habitat: Sugaring Celebration Session 2 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m., Belmont.

Sat-Sun March 12-13:

Drumlin Farm: Sap to Syrup Farmer’s Breakfast, Lincoln

Blue Hills Trailside Museum: Maple Sugar Days, Milton

Sun, March 13:

South Shore Natural Science Center: Maple Festival, Norwell

Thur, March 17:

Habitat: How Sweet it Is, Belmont

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