Saturday, March 9, 2013


No matter what the calender say, spring starts in Vermont with two things: seeds and sugaring. The seeds are planted in flats, protected from drafts, put under lights and carefully nurtured. The sugaring requires a drill, some buckets and lots of time.

I love sugaring. There's something really pleasant and contemplative about watching water boil and turn into liquid heaven. The only reason to make pancakes to me, is that they are a maple syrup delivery device.

The sap buckets sprout on the trees long before the snowdrops, but the weather has turned. Even if we get a cold snap now, we are aware that it will only last a day or two. The snow has taken on the specific texture that skiers say they enjoy and I warn the kids not to make snowballs of to hit their father.

Winter is shrouded in silence or it roars with wind. Spring announces itself with song, even before the birds return. In the sugar bush the sap drips into the galvanized steel buckets creating a high pitched musical plink.  A dozen of these on a sunny day sounds like a couple of people riffing on high pitched steel drums. The base line is provided by the stream that is a chuckling  then a roaring as the ice breaks up.

We have snow on the ground up here in the mountains, but it's mostly gone on the valley floor.

My neighbors for whom sugaring is a commercial exercise are up and down the street with their tractor and our grey muzzled dogs play together, running up and down the trails.

Maple sugar is a wonderful thing. It is the only form of sugar that does not lend itself to the Plantation System. A sugar  bush can only be tapped for about 6 weeks out of the year. The rest of the year the maples just grow happily in their forest with only minimal help and protection from humans.

Sugar Maples are only found in North America. From Cornell University:

Distribution and Habitat: Sugar maple is one of 148 maple species found in the Northern Hemisphere, which includes about 90 native and introduced species in the United States. The range of sugar maple in North America extends from Nova Scotia and Quebec at its northern edge, west to Ontario, southeastern Manitoba, and western Minnesota, south to southern Missouri, and east to Tennessee and northern Georgia (Figure 2). Sugar maple is most common in New England and the Great Lakes states as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Yes, it is expensive, and likely to get more so. Due to the recent warm winters, the season has been growing shorter, especially for the valleys.

Sugar maples can be grown in other places, but they will not yield sap without the specific weather available in these specific parts of North America. Thomas Jefferson apparently tried to sugar in Virginia, to no avail. In order for tapping to happen, there must be warm sunny days and freezing nights.

Maple syrup can be boiled down into dry sugar and stored almost indefinitely  The chief component is sucrose (like table sugar), with very little fructose, which is being implicated as a culprit in obesity.

There are no GMO maple trees (yet) and since the trees are North American, there's no need to look for the free trade label.

Soon, the snow will be gone and we'll be into the planting part of the spring, until then, I'll be busy watching water boil.

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