All About Real Maple Syrup

When the rising temperatures of spring get sugary sap a-flowin’, you owe it to yourself to taste the real stuff.
By Tabitha Alterman
April/May 2011
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There’s definitely nothing quite like the first taste of sweet maple syrup made with your own hands. As soon as things outside begin to thaw, you can begin collecting rich, delicious maple sap.
PHOTO: POVY KENDAL ATCHISON
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If yours is among the lucky palates that have enjoyed really real maple syrup, you probably don’t need convincing to go out and get some. Not only is it richer and more nuanced than the fake stuff made of high fructose corn syrup, but indulging in it is a fabulous way to enjoy an American classic and participate in the revival of regional specialties. Pure maple syrup flavor ranges from light and delicate (Grade A Light and Medium Amber) to complex and robust (Grade A Dark Amber, Grade B).

Maple syrup production should be inherently sustainable — you tap trees, capture sap, boil it ... voilà! But not all “pure” maple syrup is purely sustainable. Organic certification guarantees that the sugar maple trees haven’t been overharvested, that no chemicals were used to manage the forest, and that no formaldehyde was used in tapping the trees (formaldehyde slows the natural closing of the tapped holes). The producers below take great care to maintain the health of their forests and their products, and all are small family farms or cooperative, farmer-owned operations. They all offer a variety of bottle sizes, ranging from about $7 for a half-pint to about $70 for a big, fat gallon (16 half-pints) of fabulous, rich, real maple syrup.

Burton’s Maplewood Farm
Medora, Ind.
812-966-2168 

Coombs Family Farms
Brattleboro, Vt.
888-266-6271

Dragonfly Sugarworks
Huntington, Vt.
802-434-6502

Green Wind Farm
Fairfield, Vt.
802-309-4167

The Maple Guys
Lyndeborough, N.H.
888-627-5349

Maple Valley
Cashton, Wis.
800-760-1449

Paul Bunyan’s Maple Syrup
Rockwood, Pa.
814-233-6695

Sugarbush Farm
Woodstock, Vt.
802-457-1757


Maple Butter Recipe

As soon as you get your hands on some fresh maple syrup, try turning a little bit into a wonderful spread for biscuits or toasted homemade bread. Creamy maple butter has a peanut-buttery consistency along with maple syrup’s deep, nourishing flavors.

Ingredients: 

1 cup pure maple syrup
3⁄4 cup butter, softened  

Instructions: 

Heat syrup in a heavy pan until it foams and reaches about 240 degrees Fahrenheit (softball stage), about 10 minutes. Stir in butter and pour mixture into a mixing bowl. Beat until it’s thick and creamy, about 10 minutes. Pour maple butter into a glass jar and refrigerate. Serve on biscuits, cornbread, rolls and toast. Makes about 1 1/2 cups. 


Tap Into the Trend

If you’ve got maples in your neck of the woods, it’s time to try this sweet new hobby!

There’s nothing like those first few outdoor activities in early spring that wake up your heart and soul. And there’s definitely nothing quite like the first taste of sweet maple syrup made with your own hands. As soon as things outside begin to thaw, you can begin collecting rich, delicious maple sap.

Tapping maple trees isn’t difficult if you’re prepared, but considering the health of the tree is important. You’ll want to read up on best practices before tackling your new hobby, but here’s the gist:

  1. Find a tree that’s the right size.
  2. Drill in a tap, and hang your bucket out on days above freezing.
  3. Boil the collected sap.
  4. Filter the boiled syrup, then can it in glass jars.
  5. Make pancakes!

For detailed instructions on making maple syrup, we recommend the following:

How to Tap Maple Trees and Make Maple Syrup
(free guide from the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension) 

Making Maple Syrup
(e-handbook from MOTHER EARTH NEWS, $9.95)


Fun Fact: Maple-y Money

Native Americans and early American settlers once used maple syrup and maple sugar as a form of currency.


Tabitha Alterman is Senior Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Follow her food coverage on Facebook and Twitter.


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