Warm Days & Cold Nights: Sugaring Time in Vermont

Yesterday Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I drove past three sap buckets hanging on roadside telephone poles in Upstate New York; somebody’s got a sense of humor. HCB’s brother would enjoy that, I am sure; there is a longstanding dispute in this family about who makes the best syrup—New York (where brother S lives) or Vermont. Though I don’t really have a dog in that fight, I will stick out my neck and say Vermont is not known for its (ahem) superior maple syrup for nothing; behind every cliché there is always at least a kernel of truth and in this case, a whole lot more.

Maple 7A

Maple sugaring has come early this year with record-breaking warm temperatures; the tree outside our kitchen window is more prolific than ever. HCB taps it every spring in an exercize that is equal parts science project and culinary fun.

Big producers don’t use old-fashioned buckets anymore—everywhere in the Vermont countryside you’ll find roadside networks of the telltale blue plastic tubing that drains the maple sap and carries it from the trees to large collection tanks for serious syrup production. It is distinctly un-romantic, but still yields the sticky confection that is so magical in the mouth, ostensibly faster, better and more efficiently, and all that.

We still do it the old-fashioned way for fun. The thing is, buckets of syrup boil down to virtually nothing: when HCB insisted we had a bumper “crop” of sap this spring, my observation was something like, oooh, maybe we’ll get three tablespoons this year.

That is of course completely beside the point.

There really is not all that much to making maple syrup except collecting the sap, reducing it, straining it, and canning it. But you do have to keep your eye on the stove. It’s what’s been going on here for the past several delicious days.

Maple 8A

Maple 9A

Maple 1A

There was so much sap this year the bucket was overflowing the first time around and HCB had to use a commercial pot in the beginning.

Maple 2A

Maple 3A

Our biggest stock pot held all the sap after many, many hours of reducing:

Maple 5A

Maple 10A

Thence to a smaller pan, just barely:

Maple 11A

HCB watched it carefully from this point forward, observing its viscosity as he allowed it to fall from a spoon. For me the über-sweet aroma announced its arrival: at some point our house began to smell distinctly maple syrup-y.

Next came filtering, where the residue—particulate from the tree that eludes the eye when the sap is running—is really observable.

Maple 13A

Maple 14A

Our yield was phenomenal this year; one of us might have indulged already.

Maple 15A

There really is no substitute for real Vermont maple syrup. Totally worth the expense, to say nothing of the sticky laptop keyboard.

Maple 6A