Savoring the Sweetness of the Season: Maple Syrup
There's a big difference between maple syrup and “maple-flavored” syrup.
I’m not sure where the flavored kind comes from, and it’s probably better that way; but as of Sunday, I can tell you where they get the good stuff.
It's maple-syrup season throughout the state and I got a taste of it at Dawes Arboretum in Newark. The guides were troopers on a very chilly Sunday afternoon during the beginning of the annual Maple Syrup Madness event, leading groups along a short, scenic trail that started at a pavilion and ended at a log cabin in the woods.
During the tours, the guides share the history of maple syrup-making, and discuss methods used by Native Americans, pioneers and currently.
We learned the basics of maple trees, sap and the process that occurs every February or March whereby trees are “tapped” (have holes drilled into them and tubes inserted) to draw out the sap, which is then boiled down to make syrup.
History comes alive with stories about how the pioneers used to boil down the sap until it became sugar — first the children would stir the sap over the heat until they couldn’t stir anymore, and when the sap had been properly boiled down to syrup, they were excited to try a little. When the water continued to evaporate until all that was left was sugar, the sugar was saved and could last a family up to a year, when the next round of tapping was complete.
Along the walk, visitors will see a plaque at each “stop” that explains a step in the process of making maple syrup. One plaque features an old-fashioned drill next to it, the kind they used to put at chest height and crank until the tree was tapped.
Another has a section of a maple tree with marks next to where it had been tapped and in which years.
There also are old buckets Native Americans and settlers used to collect the sap (though now plastic is the material of choice), and the jars the Dawes family used to bottle the syrup to give to family and friends at Christmastime.
And at the end of the trail, the tour visits the “Sugar Shack” to see how the sap is boiled down.
Oh, and the best part, a taste of real, genuine maple syrup.
I enjoyed it, though I’d have to try it on top of some waffles to make it a fair taste test.
There were several bottles of grocery-store maple syrup on display with tags showing the percentage of real maple syrup each contained.
Unsurprisingly, my brand of choice scored a whopping 0%.
Nonetheless, it was neat to see the process of making maple syrup and learn how it got started; also to imagine those pioneers in the wilderness years ago. They must really have relished the once-a-year occasion.