×

Maple sugaring season begins

Maple Weekend canceled again this year; support your local maple syrup producer

Maple Christmas Candies are made at Cedar Brook Farm Maple Confections in Malone (Provided photo — Cedar Brook Farm Maple Confections)

Across the North Country, the traditional sugar-making season is underway. Most northern New York maple syrup producers get busy tapping their trees in late February or early March, in preparation for the greatly anticipated four to six weeks of sap flow generally expected to begin in mid- to late March and continue on into April.

The sugar-making season and the weeks that follow are an extremely important selling period for maple syrup-producing farm families. Many of them participate in Maple Weekend, an annual event championed by the New York State Maple Producers Association and supported by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell Maple Program, as an opportunity for individuals and families to visit one or more of our family-run maple sugaring operations and see, firsthand, how sugar maple trees are tapped and sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup.

For many producers, Maple Weekend marks the start of their annual retail sales. Unfortunately, it appears that, once again, the COVID-19 pandemic will be seriously impacting those sales. Maple Weekend has been canceled again this year.

Last year, the impact of the virus was felt throughout the year as events including county fairs, the State Fair, farmers markets and craft shows were either canceled or often poorly attended. Hopefully things will improve soon.

In a statement issued by NYSMPA, Executive Director Helen Thomas wrote, “Our Board of Directors has been actively monitoring all official information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on our ability to safely conduct public events like Maple Weekend. … We recognize our obligation to public safety for any event that we officially promote and sponsor across all of our regions. Therefore, the Board has unanimously decided to cancel the statewide official Maple Weekend for 2021.”

Taps have to be set … even in waist-deep snow. (Provided photo — South Meadow Farm Maple Sugarworks)

Ms. Thomas goes on to say that “certain local maple producers may have physical facilities that can safely operate with drive-through, online ordering for take-out, limited-capacity safe accommodation of socially-distanced customers, etc.” and encourages going online to nysmaple.com/buy-local “to determine who might be able to accommodate you for a visit.” Even if they can’t accommodate you at their sugarhouses for a tour, you can always place an order for syrup and/or any of the value-added confections they have available. Many of our local producers offer maple cream and maple granulated sugar. Others offer more unusual, specialized goodies including maple-coated almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, pretzels and/or popcorn; maple cotton candy; maple jelly; maple fudge; maple tea; maple coffee; and/or maple mustard. Check it out.

A better sweetener

I love maple syrup. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the ultimate sugar. I use it literally every day in my coffee, as a substitute for white sugar. And if I’m not eating pancakes or waffles for breakfast, I pour a little real maple syrup over my hot cereal, mix in some fresh or frozen fruit, and top it off with just a little bit of milk. Hearty, nutritious and delicious!

The nutritional value for various sweeteners is given as a percentage of Recommended Daily Value (DV) per cup (60 ml). (Canadian Nutrient File [Health Canada] and USDA Nutrient Database)

I’m convinced that maple syrup is a much healthier sweetener than refined white sugar. And I’ve had this discussion with all sorts of people. Some contend that refined white sugar is better for you than high-fructose corn syrup, which may or may not be true. But that certainly doesn’t mean that refined white sugar offers any health benefits. In fact, many nutrition experts contend that consuming refined sugars radically depresses the body’s immune system and can lead to both seasonal and food allergies. Some contend that processed sugar can actually be toxic. Overconsumption of sugar, especially processed white sugar, is associated with a rise in several health problems, among them obesity, diabetes, attention deficit problems and arthritis.

The jury is out, however, on whether or not maple syrup can be considered a health food. Maple syrup has a low glycemic index, which does not spike insulin in the same manner as refined white sugar or sugar-based syrups. And unlike refined white sugar, which is a processed food containing no vitamins or minerals and therefore must draw on the body’s reserve of vitamins and minerals in order to be metabolized, maple syrup is unrefined and known to have naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, including thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium and zinc. Nonetheless, it’s still sugar and, for that reason, should be used in moderation.

Maple syrup can be used in the place of granulated sugar for just about any recipe. Its versatility, at least as far as I’m concerned, is seriously underappreciated. I’ve used it or tasted it used in condiments including barbecue sauces, chipotle, (Dijon) mustard and vinaigrette salad dressing, and as a glaze for meats (baked ham, roasted chicken, cedar planked trout or salmon, hamburgers), or baked or broiled vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, summer or winter squash, rutabagas, carrots). And how about maple lemon or maple pepper shrimp, or maple glazed shrimp kabobs? Or maybe maple vegan baked beans or maple pork and beans? And by simply allowing fruit to caramelize in it, you can create unbelievably delicious ice cream toppings and pastry and pie fillings (rhubarb maple).

Dozens of recipes for download or printing are available from NYSPMA online at nysmaple.com/recipes.

A patient gentleman in a warm parka and recycled mittens sits patiently outside of the sugarhouse at South Meadow Farm Maple Sugarworks in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — South Meadow Farm Maple Sugarworks)

NEWSLETTER

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today