Our winter or lack thereof may affect production, but there are folks boiling syrup hereabouts. Below is my Sturbridge Times Magazine column as submitted to the editor for the March 1 issue.
How Sweet It Is
by Richard Morchoe
The little boy put a few pancakes on his plate. That task done, he grabbed a jug and, proceeded to drown the flapjacks. After a short while, the syrup being absorbed, he added more. At this point, his father, no longer able to contain himself said to the lad, “Do you think you might have a little pancake with the maple syrup?”
I remember well my dad’s gentle teasing as he observed the gargantuan appetite.
Maple syrup is a pleasure of life. Unfortunately, another region has done what it could to capture the brand. The Green Mountain State wants the world to believe the brown juice should not be mentioned without the word Vermont prefixed.
Don’t be fooled. The syrup most associated with our northern neighbor is fraudulent. Vermont Maid Syrup is glutted with high fructose corn syrup and contains only maple flavor of natural and artificial provenance.
Fortunately, you don’t have to leave town and go north for the real thing. You can head out to the back yard and produce it yourself. We are coming into the season.
Granted, it’s not without some hard work. That said, the basic method is fairly simple. You may have seen those homey pictures of men emptying buckets in winter. Well most of it is like that, heavy routine labor.
The first thing you must do is make sure you have the trees. We caution you right away that, sans les arbres, the degree of difficulty reaches a level that can only be described as insurmountable. Once you are certain that you own or have permission to tap and you are sure they are sugar maples, proceed.
Next, you need taps, at least one for each tree. They are available at farm stores and some hardware shops. Make sure your drill is working and you have a 7/16” bit. A clean plastic gallon milk jug with a hole made off to the side at the top can be used to catch sap.
For storing fresh sap, clean is the word. Depending on volume, it could be galvanized or plastic cans or pails. A deep metal pan that can hold five gallons should do for an evaporator.
Your going to be boiling on a wood fire outside so set that up and gather dry fast burning wood. You want to do it out of doors or there will be problems, but not for the gas or electric company as they will clean up, and so will you, differently.
Locate a candy thermometer to test when the syrup is done. You will need clean glass or metal jars for storing. Did we mention clean?
Ready, drill the hole and bang in the spout, but not so hard you split the tree. Hang your jug or container on the hook of the spout. Be sure to cover to keep out rain, snow and foreign material.
That fireplace you set up should be ready. When the jugs have enough sap, fill the pan, and start the fire. Don’t fill your pan to the top as it will boil over. As the water boils away keep adding more sap to the pan. Do not have less than an inch in the pan or it may burn down. Keep pouring the rest of the sap in to the boiling liquid. It will take a lot of boiling to get it to syrup as about ten gallons of sap make one quart.
Sap is finished when it is seven degrees warmer than boiling temperature at your elevation. That’s what the candy thermometer is for. Pour the hot syrup through a syrup filter or a double layer of outing flannel. Store in sterile canning jars in a cool place. A freezer is ideal.
So that is the basic process. Full disclosure, we did it once. It is work and maybe you were born to do it. Most of us, however, would be satisfied with just the finished product. You probably have a neighbor or at least someone in the vicinity who boils. If you don’t know anyone, read the list of local producers below.
In Sturbridge, KE Farms is on Leadmine Road. They have a website at http://www.maplesugarhouse.com/index.html with everything you want to know about their operation.
Maple Ledge Farm is in Holland on Vinton Road. Best to connect with them through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/maple.ledge/.
On Little Alum Road in Brimfield is the stand of Freeman Farm. To contact Jane or John call (413) 436-7621.
On the south side of West Brookfield, Amy and Jeff and their son Nick, boil sap this time of year. If you are interested the email is firstname.lastname@example.org or (508) 867-5428.
Same town on Long Hill Road is the Meade’s Bucket List Farm. Call (508) 637-1297 or email at email@example.com.
Head a little south on that street and you come to a farm operated by Abraham and his family and they have a website at http://browniefarms.com/maple-syrup/.
Up in North Brookfield, the Warren Farm and Sugarhouse has been around forever. They are on the web at http://www.thewarrenfarm.com.
The Harms Family Farm operates in Brookfield and way out in Colrain. Their web address is http://www.harmsfarm.com/.
East Brookfield has Triple Oaks Farm Sugarhouse owned by Lori And William Gregoire. They can be reached at (508) 294-5990.
If you still are bound and determined with that unquenchable do it yourself spirit, a better set of instructions is provided at the Massachusetts Maple Producers website www.massmaple.org/make.php. They can also help if you decide to turn pro.
We’ll be thinking of you as we pour warm syrup on hot pancakes.