I’m pretty sure you’re all drawn to Vermont Maple Syrup, but did you know that Maine also produces excellent stuff?
Pure Maine maple syrup has a hint of the great north woods in it and has been enhancing the flavors of fine, downeast food since long before the colonists arrived. Today, hundreds of years later, the quality is excellent, the degree of sweetness is fixed by law, and the uniquely delicious taste still varies as it always has. Sometimes the syrup is dark and rich, sometimes pale gold and delicate. It all depends on the soil and terrain, the wind and the weather, just like wine.
There are three species of maple trees used to produce maple syrup: the sugar maple, the black maple and the red maple, because of the high sugar content (roughly two to five percent) in their sap. Maples are usually tapped when they reach 30 to 40 years of age. Each tree can support between one and three taps, depending on its trunk diameter, and on average will produce 9.2 to 13.2 gallons of sap per season; this is roughly 7% of its total sap. Seasons last for four to eight weeks, depending on the weather, and sap is not tapped at night because the temperature drop inhibits sap flow. Maples can continue to be tapped for sap until the trees are over 100 years old.
The sugar in sap is stored as starch throughout the year. During the spring, the warm days and
cold nights help change these starches to sugars and the flow of sweet sap begins. Sap can only be harvested while it’s moving through the tree trunk.
Because of the long, cold winter, it was a late start for most sugarhouses in southern Maine this year, but as of Wednesday, March 4th, sap was running run for the first time. Central and Northern Maine had to wait because their seasons run a couple of weeks to almost a month behind the sugarhouses in the southern most part of the state. A sugarhouse, or sugar shack, is where the sap is boiled and is louvered at the top to vent the steam from the boiling sap.
Native Americans of Northeast American Continent developed the art of making sugar and syrup from the sap of the maple tree. For them it was the all-purpose seasoning, much as salt. It was also one of their staple foods, so valuable and portable it was often used as money. European settlers quickly learned about maple syrup, and had something very important to trade for the knowledge of making syrup — iron kettles. The Indians boiled the syrup by dropping red-hot stones into thick wooden containers full of sap. Production methods have been streamlined since colonial days, yet remain basically unchanged.
A recipe for you:
Maple-Mustard Barbecue Sauce (from the Maine Maple Producers Association)
- 2 tablespoons Dijon-style prepared mustard or other strong mustard
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, crushed through a press
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
- 1/3 cup Maine maple syrup
- 1/3 cup peanut oil or other bland oil