The end of winter is the start of maple syruping season. You know those country postcard style buckets hung on sugar maple trees, slowly collecting sap from the side of a tree? Well, you don't have to be in the woods in Vermont to do it, all you need is a big sugar maple and the right weather. Growing up in a New England city, I never actually saw this process as a kid. It wasn't until my son started preschool a few years back in the city of New Haven that I got to witness this incredible food experience. A huge old sugar maple towering over the playground was the object of affection for a wonderful group of teachers waiting excitedly for just the right moment to tap it with the kids and make syrup for a school pancake breakfast. Despite a life time of experience in food, I had to go back to preschool to learn how to make maple syrup.
The biggest surprise: it takes 40 gallons of clear sap to make 1 gallon of amber syrup. Yes, that is why it is so expensive. It also takes perfect and uncontrollable weather conditions: end of winter, warm days with nights dropping below freezing for the sap to flow well. This was a good year, last year however was horrendous.
I didn't make it out into the countryside for a bucolic maple syrup festival, but rather I visited Common Ground School, an urban charter school on the back side of West Rock park land. They had an actual syrup evaporator, which slowly warms the sap in 3 chambers until it reaches the perfect temperature and density.
Walking past the school to the trees. can you believe we are in the city?!
The sap buckets. It takes about three days to fill one bucket.
Sap for sampling. It tastes like water with a faint hint of maple. Whoever thought of boiling this down for hours to make syrup was either a genius, or had a lot of time on their hands, or both.
A maple syrup evaporator. The top chamber is for fresh sap, which moves through each consecutive chamber getting heated to temperature and reducing enough to move to the next chamber, so you are never adding cold sap to hot syrup.
Two kinds of thermometers are need for syrup making, one for temperature, one for density.
A rainbow of syrups from sap to finished product.
Hope this inspires you to do some maple tapping in your city next year!
Look up how to do it online, or search for a maple syrup festival near you.