It’s maple sugar time! Our neighbor Armour has been crafting small-batch, wood-fired syrup tapped from the maples right here on Stannard Mountain for decades, using the same traditional methods he learned from his grandfather. Maple season in Vermont is a special time that only comes once a year. After the long winter, we’re all ready to make the most of it!
Maple Season in Vermont
Indigenous communities in our area have been tapping maples for centuries, and they shared their knowledge with others who settled in Vermont. It’s been a beloved tradition ever since. Maple season comes during the late winter/early spring melt. Once temperatures start to rise above freezing after the long winter, the trees begin to circulate sap in preparation for spring. It’s during this time that we can tap the sap and turn it into syrup or candy. It can even be consumed right away as a refreshing beverage!
Tapping the trees is simple enough. You simply use a drill to make a small hole in the tree. (Don’t worry — as long as you’re tapping healthy, mature trees, you won’t hurt the tree!) You then insert a spile to guide the sap into either a tube connected to a tank (if you’re tapping at scale) or, if you’re doing things the old-fashioned way, a simple metal bucket. Once you’ve gathered a good amount of sap, it’s time to boil!
Turning Sap into Syrup
The boiling process reduces the total volume by a huge amount — about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, depending on how sweet the sap is. The sap is boiled vigorously until it evaporates most of its water, thickens and turns a beautiful golden color. That’s it! As Armour says, “the trees provide the sugar — all we’re doing is taking the water out of it.” This creates quite a bit of steam and moisture that you wouldn’t want in your indoor kitchen. Sugaring therefore usually happens outside, or in designated sugar shacks with extra ventilation built in. Once the syrup hits a certain temperature, you’re ready to filter, cool and bottle it for future enjoyment. (Be sure to save a little still hot to pour over fresh snow for a delicious “sugar on snow” treat! It’s the backwoods Vermont version of a snow-cone.)
You may have seen different grades and colors of maple syrup for sale. Although you might assume the darker colors are due to longer boiling, this color actually has nothing to do with the process of cooking the syrup. Rather, these variations are inherent to the sap itself. This can change depending on the weather, the health of the tree, the soil it grows on, and so on.
We are so fortunate to carry some of Armour’s intentionally handmade syrup here at Sky Meadow for guests to purchase and take home. These bottles of “Vermont gold” make a lovely gift for loved ones (or to keep for yourself — we won’t judge!). Be sure to take some home with you from your next visit to Sky Meadow. It’s such a delicious way to enjoy this beloved Vermont agricultural tradition.