Experiences, Products or Treats with Connecticut Maple Syrup
Discovered by Native Americans, maple syrup has become a stable in many US households. A proclamation by the Governor saw March renamed Connecticut Maple Month, in recognition of the importance of maple syrup to the Connecticut economy. With only a short window of opportunity every February and March, Connecticut maple farmers race against time to maximize production, knowing any sign of leaf budding on the maple tree will cut the season short.
Connecticut Maple Syrup
- Known as "the sugaring season," early February to late March is the traditional time to make Maple Syrup in Connecticut. Those that make maple syrup are known as "sugarers."
- Pure maple syrup is made from the sap of the red, black, and sugar maples. Most maple syrup is produced from the sugar maple, Acer Saccharum which grows in the northeast states and around the Great Lakes of Canada. To be tapped a tree needs a diameter of eleven inches, which is the equivalent of forty years growth.
- The Connecticut climate at this time of the year is perfect, with maple trees needing freezing nights and sunny days to produce the colorless sap with the sweet taste that is refined to become maple syrup. The process of making maple syrup may appear to the uneducated to be relatively simple, but some elements can only be mastered through experience.
- Despite the short season, former teacher and now maple syrup farmer, James Jahoda explains it is a full-time job, "I was a maple sugar farmer, and I was also a science teacher in Killingly for 32 years, but I retired early because you can't do both. Maple syrup farming is a year-round job."
History of Connecticut Maple Syrup
- There are various legends regarding the origin of maple sauce. Most legends give credit to the Native Americans.
- One legend has a Native American youth see a red squirrel climb a tree, bite of a twig, and lick off the sap, leading him to discover the sap. Another legend sees a Native American chief pulling his tomahawk from a tree before going hunting. The sap gathered while he was away, which the chief's wife took to be a liquid for dinner. The chief loved.
- When the settlers arrived in New England, they were taught the process by the Native Americans. Over the years, various modifications have been made to optimize the seasonal output. The one constant is the importance of the health of the trees. The drilling wound can expose the trees to microorganisms, which can lead to death. Fortunately, most trees are sturdy.
- Maple syrup production has a rich history in Connecticut. With only 0.1% of the maple trees in Connecticut tapped, there is plenty of potential for growth in the industry, and with 90% of the maple syrup sold in Connecticut being brought in from out of state, the demand is certainly there.
- In 2017, the Senate and the House of Representatives approved a proclamation from the Governor of Connecticut "that the month of March each year is to be known as Connecticut Maple Month." This recognized the contribution to the state of the maple growers.
Interesting Facts about Maple Syrup
- The US produced 4.27 million gallons of maple syrup in 2018. The consumption of pancakes may be on the decline, but concerns for the maple syrup market are premature given the anti-inflammatory properties it contains.
- Connecticut comes in tenth when the maple syrup production of the states is assessed.
- A maximum of four taps can be inserted into a mature tree. If the farmer continues to tap the maple tree once the leaves start to appear, it will result in a bitter product.
- Maple Syrup production is the oldest agricultural enterprise in the US.
- Until 1875, maple syrup was the standard household sweetener.
Process of Making Maple Syrup
- Due to the brevity of the season, not a day must be lost, so the sugarer must be prepared for everything the season brings. Once the appropriate trees to tap have been identified, the tapping will start when the sugarer anticipates the optimal weather conditions.
- The season lasts for around six to eight weeks. The sap stops flowing when the nightly freeze stops, at which time the trees start budding leaves.
- Collecting the sap in freezing, snowy conditions is not easy. One of two processes if used either the traditional bucket and spout or pipeline and tubing. Some larger producers using the pipeline collection will attach a vacuum to improve the yield.
- The evaporating or boiling process starts as soon as the sap is collected. The process continues until the sap becomes syrup. Some producers will use a finishing pan to ensure the syrup reaches the correct density. Evaporation gives syrup the amber color and maple taste. Ideally, maple syrup has a sugar content of between 2-4%.
Maple Syrup Grading
- Maple Syrup receives a grade between A and D when sold commercially. The grade is a reflection of the color of the syrup. The sugar content and syrup making processes are the same regardless of grade, and the same ingredients are used for all grades. Due to fermentation, the syrup gets darker later in the season. The grades reflect the time in the season the syrup was tapped.
- Like hot sauce, the different grades suit very refined tastes. Grade A is golden and has a delicate taste, while grade B has a rich taste and is amber. With a dark color, grade C has a robust taste. Grade D has a very dark color and strong taste.
Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut
- The Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut (MSPAC) brings together like-minded individuals with an interest in sugaring, as the process of turning sap to syrup is known. MSPAC provides information, support, and a network of sugarers, ranging from hobbyists to professionals, and works to share and cultivate the skill.
- Two information events are hosted annually by MSPAC, with a range of free literature provided. They are "how-to" events and include a variety of guest speakers. A lively discussion is guaranteed.
- MSPAC is a member of the North American Maple Syrup Council and the International Institute of Maple Syrup. They work closely with several state agencies to promote Connecticut's maple syrup.