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Tuesday March 2, 2010 Edition
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Maple Season Is Almost Here

photo by Mike Cameron

Tuesday March 2, 2010

By Mike Cameron

The time is almost here for the maple sap to start running in earnest.  Will the maple season be on track in 2010?  It usually depends on who you ask.  Vermonters enjoy a good debate.  

    Many trees have already been tapped.  Mother nature has already begun the process of bringing sap into a new season.

    The syrup business can be competitive and Vermont sugar-makers want to produce a quality, safe, in-demand product and hopefully sell it at a profit.

    For some, the process of this magical transformation and the ceremony surrounding it has been in Vermont for as long as maple trees first gave up their sticky secret to the original “Native Vermonters.”  

    Today Vermont is the largest producer of pure maple syrup in the U.S.  But what about tomorrow?   Will continuing climate change alter dramatically this Vermont right of spring?

    Vermont is fortunate to have the “Vermont Maple Sugar Maker's Association and the Vermont Maple Foundation.  These two groups help to promote the sweet science of sugar-making and provide consumers with an interesting and useful array of information.  Their individual sugaring members enjoy the process of maple and the collective support and information network that a group effort can achieve.  

    Each member producer has their own individuality and are always fun to chat with over a boiling evaporator of sap in the sugar house.  Called a “sugar shack,” by some of us who have seen a few sugaring seasons come and go.

    As the VMSMA declares on their website “Vermont's maple syrup is 100% natural and we take our syrup so seriously that we were the first to establish a mandatory maple law to establish purity and quality regulations.”  Mark your calendar...The annual Vermont Maple Open House Weekend is set for March 26-28 a Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  

    On this week end most of the sugar makers will have their boiling operations going full blast and the smell of maple steam inside the sugar house will give you a real Vermont experience that can only be topped off by buying some syrup and bringing it home.  Many will offer free sample sips of the sweet stuff.

    The tansformation from tree to table is one story and the history and culture of sugaring in Vermont  is another.  Marketing maple has become a big part of the Vermont persona around the world.  Maple products have become diverse and imaginative.  Made in Vermont on the label has a certain amount of star power in the industry.   

    As a nation the U.S. Produced 2.33 million gallons of syrup in 2009 an increase of 22 percent from 2008 and the highest on record since 1944. The number of taps is estimated at 8.65 million 4 percent above the 2008 total of 8.33 million.  Yield per tap is estimated to be 0.269 gallons, up17 percent from the previous season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Statistics Service.

    Vermont led the way in taps,yield and production numbers.  When data is compared with other New England producing states, Vermont's numbers are far and away superior.  In 2009, 920,000 gallons of maple syrup were produced in the Green Mountain State.

    A major competitor for Vermont and New England in the maple syrup business is Canada and their four  maple producing provinces.  No data was available for 2009 but in 2008 Canada produced a whopping  5 million eight hundred seventy nine thousand gallons.  It was unclear whether or not these values were computed in Imperial gallons which of course would have given customers an extra quart of syrup.  U.S. Gallons are 4 quart and Imperial are 5 quart gallons.   

    There is also the matter of personal taste.  This writer has often been criticized for being less than a real Vermonter for my love of “fancy syrup”.  Almost clear, this first of the run product is an amazingly mellow and  sweet liquid.  The late season run B variety called by some old Vermonters “black strap” is strong and almost woody tasting.  Strange as it may sound there are some; yours truly included that also like that as well.

    So here's to those hearty souls who tramp the deep woods in heavy “sugar snow”, behind  a team of horses, a tractor, S.U.V.  four wheeler or snowmobile to check and see if things are “runnin”.  

    They might be using the latest in vacuum style technology and plastic piping or just tapping trees in the back yard by hand and hanging plastic pails to gather sap.  It's hard work.  We raise a jigger of first boil right out of the tap to each of you and say good luck!  Hey is that maple cured bacon I smell cookin?  Please excuse me.  My pancakes are ready.

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