The how-to of collecting maple sap
Have you ever had pure maple syrup? Once you have, the other never quite works for you again. Pure maple syrup is deep in color, rich in taste, goes down slowwwww-ly, and lingers wherever it lands. It is sweet without containing the kinds of processed sugars we’re told to avoid, which makes it a super treat.
I’m a native New Englander. My first childhood memories of pure maple anything were of the little maple sugar candies that my parents brought back from vacations up north. These came in a box of four or six and were shaped like pine cones, maple leaves, or trees. Put one in your mouth, and it melts, just like that. I have newer memories of maple products, but more on that in a sec.
Have you ever tapped a maple tree? This being early March, it’s the season. The best weather for syrup flow entails cold nights and warm days, and while we haven’t had a particularly cold or snowy winter here in the Northeast, hope springs eternal. Same with education, which is why I spotted pails hanging from maple trees at the side of the road beside a local elementary school this week.
Pails are the original how-to of collecting sap. A small spigot is hammered into a maple tree, a pail hung from it to collect what flows, and there you have it. In a good season, the pails will fill quickly, meaning that you have to go from tree to tree emptying them into a large vat or two or three. Needless to say, these vats get heavy, so you need a sled or tractor or other source of muscle.
Enter tubes, connected from tree to tree and back to a collection center or sugaring house, and you have a much more effective system. That’s generally how it’s done with the pure maple syrup you buy now.
I know, because I researched this for my book An Accidental Woman, and there’s a back story to the research, too. Needing first-hand info before I could write the book, I surfed the web for sources, found one in Vermont, and phoned. The woman on the other end was cautious – wouldn’t you be, if you suddenly got a call from an unknown person claiming to be a writer and wanting to pick your brain? As fate had it, my name rang a bell with her, so she checked her bookshelf and found Lake News, from which An Accidental Woman would be spun off. From there on, she was totally on board, giving me reams of information, sending more in the mail, even getting into the plot and making suggestions about what the male protagonist, my maple sugarer, might look like and do. So Betty Ann Lockhart, of Perceptions, Inc, became a friend, making the researching not only informative for me, but fun!
An Accidental Woman weaves maple sugaring in and around a typical BD plot. If you’re interested, try it out. It’s Poppy’s story. Lake News focused on her sister Lily. And there’s still Rose. Should I do hers? I had initially conceived of the Lake Henry books as a foursome, one in each season. If Lake News is set in fall and An Accidental Woman in winter, Rose’s story could be spring or summer. What do you think?
BTW, I keep a pint of pure maple syrup in my fridge at all times. It’s great for pancakes or waffles. It’s also great to drizzle on scrambled eggs! My favorite maple goodies right now, though, are pure maple drops, hard suckers that give me a needed lift at odd times. They take me away, much as the sight of those pails did this week. I buy them online at Maple Sugar and Vermont Spice, and though the label says “maple flavored,” they’re 100% maple syrup. Check it out.
Generally, though, you should beware of maple “flavored” products. Look at the ingredient list. As attractive as the lower cost is, they just aren’t the same. And you have to use more to get the taste. Me, I’d rather have less of the real thing.