News from Vermont #286 - The "Dark" Side of Maple

May 1st, 2013


Hello again Maple People,

For those who believe that climate change has rendered our weather "fluky" and unpredictable, I've got news for you; there's a group of us who've been operating under that premise for generations...Vermont maple sugarmakers. Yup, if a Vermont maple sugarmaker can't accept the concept of "anything can happen", then he'd better get into some other business. Take the last two sugar seasons, for instance: Sugarin' 2012 started off with a real "bang". I remember getting up at four in the morning on March 8 and going out with a flashlight to pump sap from tanks that were all flowing over. We boiled on March 9 and made a good amount of "fancy" light colored, delicate flavored, early season syrup. By March 10, things started to go sour with our weather and within days, we faced the "sticky" reality that sugarin' 2012 was over. A week of persistent "summer" temperatures in March first turned our fancy grade to grade C "frog run" syrup and then started the tree buds to swell. Buds always bode maple season's swan song.

We spent the whole year of 2012 "licking our maple wounds" and scrambling for enough syrup to sell, worrying that some kind of fluky weather pattern might stage a repeat in 2013. After our trees were all tapped and sap lines readied, however, sap started running early last month. We made a few gallons of nice fancy but, low and behold, old Poseidon, God of the Sea that also seems to reign over floods, droughts, earthquakes, and sugar weather, reared his ugly head...our winter returned and shut off the "sap spigot" till the end of March! Thankfully, April came through for us with enough sap runs for a much better season but less than a "bumper crop"...our verdict: 2013 sugarin' was generally too cold!

Got it? Climatologically speaking, maple sugarmakers are a seasonal disaster! We demand perfect weather but expect nary a thing. And speaking of "psychology", there's a bit of marketing psychology that's as fluky as the weather'. Despite our weather neurosis, we're always excited at the beginning of each season when the syrup's light in color. Fancy's the syrup maker's syrup, the stuff we sugarmakers not only love to make but just plain "love". It's made from sap that's "refrigerated" by cool weather and is not only top choice of the experts but, by the book, the best...I, seventh generation Vermont maple sugarmaker, would sooner allow old crankcase oil onto my table than anything less than fancy! Enter the "dark side " of maple consumerism...the average consumer these days says thumbs down to fancy and a huge thumbs up to Grade B...ARRRRGHH!

Now don't get me wrong, Grade B is not really to be compared with "old crankcase oil". It's perfectly legitimate maple syrup but here's the thing: It's made at the very end of our season when our weather is warm and we're bone-tired...translation: both our attitude and our sap are a bit sour. And now you know that Grade B maple syrup is made from warm, sour sap. Even so, it never tastes sour and has a strong, robust maple flavor that many favor, just not Vermont sugarmakers like me.

So "go figure" as they say these days...sugarin' leaves far more questions than answers, always has, always will. I joke with lots of folks that when I die, I'm going to come back as an office worker in a climate controlled cubicle. My area will be cheerfully lighted and I'll not question the lack of a window...who cares about the weather outside? But for the time being, I'm merely a mortal leading my life as a maple sugarmaker. Next year in early spring, I'll make what syrup the weather favors me with and accept my "lot". When it's all over, I'll be no wiser. The trees will be budding and our fluky weather will usher in a new season. But wait, there is one thing I will know...the market'll once again be strong for all that dark, end of the year, Grade B syrup.

Now's the perfect time to buy any of our four grades of maple syrup. There's no better time than right now, fresh and right off the evaporator! We recently took a good look at our shopping basket and found a way to lower some of the shipping costs. Now, if you wish to add a smaller item to a jug of maple syrup, say a container of Maple Cotton Candy or a jar of Maple Apple Drizzle, the shipping cost will be much lower than it was...take a look. We're here at 24 hours a day to help you with your breakfast table or gift-giving needs.

Gettin' on to the next season,