Early spring in Vermont is cold and muddy. It’s a time when the fields and forests are a muted brown and nothing is growing yet, but it is the time of year for one very important Vermont agricultural product: maple syrup. Maple syrup has a special place in my kitchen, as my family has deep roots in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. The trees in the maple grove on my mother’s farm are ancient and massive. My great-grandmother made heavenly maple glazed doughnuts and maple custard pies, all from a yearly supply of syrup made within the space of just a few spring weeks.
Warm days and freezing nights are necessary to start the sap flowing in maple trees. Syrup-making takes a lot of sap: 10 gallons reduce to just one gallon of syrup! After the clear and mildly sweet sap runs out through the taps on the trees, is carted off to the sugar house. My family’s sugar house is fairly typical – a small shack in the forest containing a wood fire under a large evaporating pan. While the sap is running the wood fire under the evaporator is stoked day and night until the majority of the water has evaporated. Family and friends often stop by with snacks and beer to share with whomever is on duty. The cozy little wooden building is hot and steamy inside, a nice respite from gathering sap in the cold air, and the scent of a Vermont wood fire mingled with the sweet syrupy smell of the boiling sap is truly unforgettable. When the syrup reaches the perfect density it’s time to make sugar-on-snow. A drizzle of hot syrup on fresh snow quickly cools into a fine candy.
We currently sell Vermont maple syrup from Wheelock Mountain. The folks at Wheelock Mountain Farm (in Greensboro Bend, VT) also hand tap trees, haul sap by hand, and boil it on a wood-fired evaporator. Emily at Wheelock Mountain Farm reports a “wonderful spring” this year, with an average haul of sap.
As we approach May the snow has all melted, Vermont is turning green again and we’re stocked up with a fresh supply of syrup. I leave you with a recipe for my favorite way to use maple syrup in the springtime, when farmer’s markets are opening and new salad greens are sprouting up.
Mom’s Maple Vinaigrette
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
½ tsp fine sea salt
Put all ingredients in a jar. Close lid and shake it up. Delicious on spring greens, especially with strawberries, blue cheese and/or candied nuts.
And in case anyone is doing any haying this summer:
Recipe from “An Old Peacham Farmer”
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup vinegar
1 gallon cold spring water
Mix and refresh yourself while haying.
Julie Cappellano is the General Manager and wine buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End.