At this week’s Chef’s Table, HUHDS is featuring a popular accompaniment to pancakes – maple syrup. Maple syrup comes from the sap of sugar, red, or black maple trees. The trees store starch in their roots and stems during winter, and, as the seasons change, the starch turns into sugar and rises into the sap.
The trees don’t simply leech the sap for our convenient use.. Maple trees have to be tapped using a complex method of drilling, inserting spiles (small wooden or metal pegs), and then hanging a bucket to catch the sap. Each tree can produce about 10-20 pounds of sap per season.
This still isn’t the same stuff you pour over your pancakes, though. The sap has to be boiled down to concentrate the flavor and sweetness. The sap is boiled down in “sugar shacks” or “sugarhouses,” where 30-40 gallons of sap are heated continuously until they produce about a gallon of maple syrup.
Maple syrup has been a long-standing tradition in North America. Native Americans were the first known to make maple syrup, and they passed along the craft to European settlers. The native peoples referred to the syrup as “sweet water” and regarded it as a source of energy and nutrition. Today, we simply think of it as a sugary addition to a variety of dishes, such as waffles, oatmeal, pastries, and – a HUHDS favorite – butternut squash.
In Massachusetts, the prime time to harvest maple sap starts at the end of February and lasts until April. This Saturday March 5th, you can get involved in making maple syrup at the Somerville Community Growing Center’s Maple Syrup Boil Down. For more information, visit the Groundwork Somerville website here.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/thed34n