“There is in some parts of New England a kind of tree… whose juice that weeps out of incisions, if it be permitted slowly to exhale away excess moisture, doth congeal into a sweet and saccharine substance…” Robert Boyle, 1663
It wouldn’t be Vermont if March didn’t bring the characteristic site of steam rising from sugar house vents. Yup, it’s sugarin’ time. In late winter, when days become warm while nights are still cold, sugar-rich sap begins to move inside the maple tree out to the buds to make new leaves in the spring. Native Americans were the first to learn how to tap into a sugar maple and collect the sap, and they later taught this skill to European colonists. It was then discovered that they could boil the sap after it was collected to steam off most of the water and increase its sugar concentration. By this process, thirty to forty gallons of sap are used to make one gallon of syrup.
I’ve read that the Abenaki Indians were the first to discover the secrets of the Maple tree. There are several different stories of how it happened, but this is my favorite…
One day a woman was boiling moose meat while her husband went to hunt. She was making moccasins and forgot the boiling meat until the handle burnt off and the birch pot and meat fell into the fire spilling all the water out. She knew there was sap in a birch bucket that they kept for drinking so she used it to boil the moose meat instead of water. When she checked it later the meat was covered with a sticky brown stuff so when she heard her husband coming she ran and hid, but her husband ate the meat and loved it, thus maple syrup was born!
Native peoples used maple syrup as a medicine. Current chemical analysis indicate that in addition to sugars, maple syrup contains amino acids, proteins, organic acids, vitamins & minerals, and is particularly high in potassium and calcium.
Yes March has a reputation for its muddy dirt roads and unpredictable weather, but in March finally day-light exceeds darkness again. The birds sing and there are hints of green if you look hard enough. March ushers out the snow and ice of January and February and brings us all the sweetness of April and May. Enjoy March in Vermont, with it’s sticky sweet Vermont Gold drizzled over your favorite pancake or waffle recipe or just on some of the last of winter’s snow!