A Sweet Tradition

Connecticut's Maple Season Is Here!

Warm days and cold nights are sweet stuff to the state’s maple producers. These are ideal conditions for pushing maple trees’ sugary sap up the trunk toward the leaves, rendering it available to those who are in the business of collecting it.

When daytime temperatures stay below freezing, the plants convert starches into sugars in the roots. Once days warm up, the roots push that sap up toward the canopy. En route, taps placed in the tree by the sugarmakers divert some of it for the production of CT Grown maple syrup, sugar, and candy.

The taps do not harm the trees, nor does the removal of sap. Collectors limit tapping to trees at least 10 inches in diameter and in good health, and place only as many taps as the trees can bear without detriment.

“Sugaring is a very sustainable practice,” said Chuck Drake, Secretary of the Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut (MSPAC). “Because we depend on these trees year after year, we monitor them carefully and adjust our tapping accordingly to ensure the trees maintain optimum health. It is good stewardship, of course, but it also is good business sense,” he added.

While small-scale producers often still collect sap in covered buckets carefully fastened to the tree, larger-scale producers use elaborate tubing systems to transport the sap directly to large collection tanks. On a good day, a single tap can yield a gallon of sap. Sap can be collected for about five to six weeks, depending on weather conditions, before the taps begin to dry up.

The sap comes out of the tree clear, resembling water. After it is collected, the sap is boiled to concentrate the sugars and make a thick syrup. Between 30 and 40 gallons are needed to produce one gallon of finished maple syrup.

The boiling process is done with a very large wood stove, called an evaporator, in a building known as a sugarhouse. Maple producers work long hours and get little sleep during this time.

The result of their labor is the delectable liquid amber that is used to top a steaming stack of buttermilk pancakes, stirred into a hearty bowl of oatmeal, or drizzled over scrumptious roasted root vegetables.

According to the USDA’s 2009 Census of Agriculture, Connecticut’s 173 maple producers run a total of 71,000 taps and produced 13,000 gallons of syrup. Though production trails significantly behind Vermont (whose 1,310 producers produce 920,000 gallons of syrup from over 3 million taps), the quality of Connecticut’s syrup is second to none. In fact, twice in the last five years, a Connecticut producer’s syrup has been named “Best Maple Syrup in the World” at Maple-Rama, an annual two-day workshop held in Vermont. Connecticut syrup has also received the award of “Best Syrup” at the North American Maple Syrup Council meetings conducted in New York.

To celebrate the sweet season, the annual Hebron Maple Festival features a weekend full of tours, exhibits, demonstrations, food, and other family fun. In addition, a slew of sugarhouses around the state are open to the public and many give tours, making an interesting and educational activity for people of all ages. For a list, go to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s website at www.CTGrown.gov and click on “Publications.”

CONNECTICUT GROWN – The Local Flavor www.CTGrown.gov   www.ct.gov/doag

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