It's Maple Time! Maple syrup is a main stay where I live in the Northeast. For millennia, native people have harvested the delicious sap that runs from maple trees. The art of this harvest is called sugaring. It's done by tapping a tree in the late winter. Trees store their nutrient rich sap in their roots during the winter. The sap supplies the trees with sugary nutrients needed to help the buds to swell and leaves to open.
Glucose is the sugar produced as a part of photosynthesis, that feeds the trees. This can't happen without the leaves. That's where the sap plays a huge role. As the temperatures warm above freezing, the sap, starts it's upward climb from the roots to the tips of branches. At night, or when the temperatures drop back down below freezing, the sap retreats to the roots again. It's this up and downward flow that gets the sap moving and allows it to drip out and get collected. Trees are drilled each year to provide a fresh source for the sap to flow. The same hole cannot be reused. These holes heal over time and cause no permanent damage to the trees.
If you've never gone sugaring, it's so fun. Native Americans used to collect sap in buckets and cook it down in hollowed out tree trunks. Early settlers cooked the syrup over large cauldrons. Now, the process is much more simplified. A typical maple farm will have miles of plastic tubing that collect the sap and transport it to a condensing chamber. There the maple syrup is heated up and the water is evaporated off of the syrup. What's left are the rich sugars the plant has produced. Depending on the warmth of the season, the syrup will be lighter or darker. As the season progresses, the sap becomes darker and stronger in flavor. My favorite is the dark varieties of syrup. The earlier haul is lighter and more delicate in flavor.
The longer the maple syrup is cooked, the thicker it becomes. Syrup can be transformed into maple "butter" and candy as more water is evaporated. Native Americans used the candy as a way to carry the sugar and store it more easily, as well as a great treat! Maple syrup, when sealed, can sit on a shelf for a long time. Once opened, the syrup should be kept refrigerated.
Maple syrup can be used in place of honey and other forms of sugar. Because it adds liquid to the recipe, you want to reduce the liquid levels slightly (about a few tablespoons per cup) to attain the same consistency. It's awesome drizzled on roasted veggies, your oatmeal, in your cobbler toppings and pie fillings, in jams, dressings, nuts, and any other place you're looking to sweeten things up. There's no reason to purchase "organic" versions of maple syrup. It is organic as it is. It's a pure food that comes directly from the center of tree. Maple syrup is a rich source of magnesium, calcium, and potassium. It's sugar content is lower than honey, and it's a truly vegan food.
Try my maple chipotle walnuts.
or some maple apple cobbler and celebrate these amazing trees!