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Cleaning Up

We managed to eke 310 gallons out of the Strafford bush this year. Still have a bit of cleaning and maintenance to do, but in general, the production season is closed and we’re ready to sell maple syrup.

First Maple Syrup Tasting

First Maple Syrup Tasting

We had lots of people come by to visit during the season. I wish we were able to show the operation sugaring more often, but such is the nature of farming and the weather. One set of visitors was the Audubon Society. They’ve been studying the area, and this sugarbush in particular. This month they ran a small piece in their Audubon Magazine. It’s not on their site (although a funny little recipe that Elise contributed made it into another article here. Odd that we’ve been the object of such attention. A couple years back Yankee Magazine did a piece on us as well.

One additional joy this year in sugaring was seeing our little Lucy start to become more aware of what’s going on. She loves coming with us up the hill in the backpack, and – for better or worse – she appears to like maple syrup as much as I do. Here she is having her first taste of the year.

Tough Production Year for Maple Syrup

Maple syrup producers throughout the U.S. have been complaining of a very short season, with the high temperatures first preventing the needed freezing nights and then, eventually, prodding the maple trees to bud out and stop producing usable maple sap.

We’re at one quarter of a normal year’s crop right now, which would be a find place to be most mid-Marches, but with the hot weather in the forecast, this could be a short year.

Fortunately, we have access to the maple production of a number of farmers in the region, so our customers need not worry about supply. And we still harbor hopes that after this week, things will normalize and we can get a good piece of that remaining crop.

Our new “dry lines” are working very well, so if the weather cooperates, we should be able to make it up quickly.

Maple Syrup to Asia

The barrels of syrup below represent the annual production of tens of acres of hardwood forest, preserved for yet another year as a working landscape. These particular ones are headed to a new Asian client.
Barrels-of-maple-syrup
Getting through the rigamarole of exporting, customs, clearing, various certifications is a pretty high bar, but once it is all done, the subsequent shipments are much easier. Henry Marckres, of the State of Vermont, was hugely helpful in quickly getting some necessary documents put together and stamped in various fashions.

While there is a very strong localvore movement here in Vermont, we can protect a lot more forest by selling to export markets than we can by selling in the farmers markets.

In the export market, the big competition is the Canadians, who spend quite a bit of money marketing their syrup worldwide, largely as a single trading cooperative. Their marketing can sometimes sound as though they are talking down the maple syrup produced in the U.S. Speaking to several prospective Asian clients over the last year, as I have, you definitely get the impression that they’re being told frequently about the “unique” qualities of Canadian syrup.

I figure the best answer to that is sending barrels of maple syrup overseas so that people can see for themselves. We produced a brochure for international clients that can be seen here.

In South Korea, there has long been a market for maple sap, rather than maple syrup. They call the sap gorosoe. Sap, however, is impractical to transport half-way across the world, as it requires storage systems similar to those required by milk. Once it’s concentrated into maple syrup, it is sufficiently stable to ship. Reconstituting sap from syrup (adding water) can be done, but it will contain the diluted maple flavor of maple syrup. Uncooked sap does not.

Best Granola Ever

Nancy_Maple_GranolaWe wind up selling a lot of our maple syrup to small-scale, high-end food producers, like granola makers. One in particular is worthy of a special note. Nancy’s Granola, a customer for a couple years, has been testing different syrup grades and production methods, and has come up with a granola mix that is unlike any other we’ve tried. Nancy sent us a four pound back of the granola, and as you can see from the picture here, it’s managed to get empty pretty quickly.

Nancy’s granola manages to retain a lot of maple flavor. She uses our dark commercial syrup that really packs a punch. She sent samples to us of different mixes and production methods, and after a few months of consulting wound up with this particular recipe. I highly recommend people try it. Nancy’s site isn’t up yet, but she can be emailed at nancysgranola-at-yahoo.com.

I used up the last bit with an experiment; pouring milk into a small cup of the granola and using it as a cereal.

It goes to show that there is room in the food market for people who have a passion for tinkering in the kitchen to discover new ways of doing things that set their product on a higher level than anything else out there. Elaine McCabe’s Red Kite Candies also comes to mind, the company that created a new kind of caramel that is so much better than normal caramels, that they should really be called something different. In both cases, the women were relentless about systematically testing different options and methods.

Double-Tapping To Suss Out New Spiles

Two taps in one stain zone. Why?

Two taps in one stain zone. Why?

This year we’re replacing the vast majority of our “health spouts” with the new valved sap adapters, in the hopes that they’ll extend the season and give us the gift of additional maple syrup.

Being the skeptical sort, we’re taking 30 or 40 trees and double-tapping them so that we can see if indeed the valved sap adapters do continue to throw sap later into the season.

To set up this experiment, we’re tapping both spiles one right above the other. This won’t necessarily tell us how much sap each one produces, but it should tell us the period during which one sap is more active than another. If the current research bears out, the older taps will stop a week or so before the adapter-equipped ones. We placed the taps atop one another so as to minimize the staining done with the two holes. The sapwood stains in a largely vertical pattern (a couple feet above and below the hole), so this configuration of tapping should minimize additional damage to the tree. It also eliminates aspect as a factor affecting the timing of the tapholes drying.

Stay tuned, and we’ll have a decent anecdotal indication of effectiveness. Incidentally this should be biased toward the new valved sap adapters because our older taps are generally a couple years old, so they should be harboring the microorganisms that cause taphole drying.

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