It’s maple syrup season here in New England, and for the past few weeks, sugarhouses have been busy, boiling down maple sap to create maple syrup. You really don’t see sap buckets on the trees like the ones shown in the photograph on the left anymore. About the only place you can find those are in antique shops. That’s because the process of collecting sap has been streamlined over the years.
Look carefully into the woods and the evidence is unmistakable: plastic tubing snaking from tree to tree, terminating in large, sealed plastic containers that can hold many gallons of sap. It takes about forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and streamlining the collection process allows farmers to tap a larger number of trees.
I really love maple syrup, probably because I grew up in a house where pancakes and waffles were served with margarine and fake, maple “flavored” syrup. Until I moved to New England, I truly don’t think I knew what I was missing. For me, no matter how good a pancake is, without real butter and authentic maple syrup it’s just not worth the effort.
Elisa and I are lucky enough to live within a mile of Fieldstone Farm, a small, family owned and operated farm in East Rindge, New Hampshire. Every year in the spring we head down the road to buy our maple syrup there. We usually wait until later in the season so we can buy Grade B maple syrup, which is darker and has a stronger maple flavor than what is usually found at the supermarket. Basically, there are four grades of syrup here, Grade A Light Amber; Grade A Medium Amber; Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B. The grading is based entirely on the opacity of the syrup, and the same grade of syrup purchased from two different producers can and will have subtle differences in flavor. The lighter syrups are produced at the beginning of the season and the darker grades arrive later.
Visiting Fieldstone Farm during their open house weekend in March is great! They raise cattle and sell their own beef, and they also have a Buffalo wandering around, which is a somewhat uncommon sight in New Hampshire. They provide hot dogs and juice, and it’s quite nice to squeeze into their sugarhouse and sample their syrup while they boil down the maple sap for the next batch.
When we’ve purchased our maple syrup and gotten back to the house, we make up a batch of fresh pancakes right away. It’s a distinct pleasure to have homemade pancakes with maple syrup when the syrup was bottled the same day, less than a mile down the road.
I’ve posted my pancake recipe previously, which I like for two reasons. First, you can make a mix of the dry ingredients and keep it in your cupboard, which gives you the convenience of using a store-bought mix, with the wholesome ingredients of home made. The second reason is because it’s really, really good. Give it a try!