We caught up today, which is to say found the bottom of the tanks. Our two sugarbushes sit around seven miles from the sugarhouse – one on the east side of town, one on the west. And so we truck sap in 800-gallon increments. When it’s running well, it can be hard to pump a collection tank dry. You’ll get close, but then by the time you haul one load, then head across town to tend the next tank, and get back, you’ve already missed your window.
The warm weather has contributed to the relentlessness this season. When it freezes at night, the sap stops running, which allows you to catch up on the collection, the boiling, and your sleep. When it doesn’t freeze, the sap runs all night, and if you don’t have a place for the sap to go, you run, too. When we started building our infrastructure the collection tanks were appropriately sized, which is to say two gallons of capacity per tap. But as we’ve expanded over the years, we shrunk that capacity. As it stands now, on a good run we’ve got to be there every 6 to 8 hours, lest things overflow.
The warm temperatures also affect sap quality. Your refrigerator is probably around 38 degrees; at that temperature things keep well. But last week in southwestern Vermont the high temperatures soared into the fifties and sixties, and nighttime lows on several nights never dipped below 45. If you left your milk out in these conditions it would begin to turn; same is true with sap.
In the picture below you’ll see syrup we made, from left to right, on 3/8, 3/9, 3/10, 3/11, 3/12, and 3/13. Note how it went from a nice amber color to a reddish deep brown – that’s an indication that the weather got too hot. Some of the red syrup had decent flavor, albeit strong. It would be good in the base of a nice maple barbeque sauce, where it could blend with strong, smoky flavors. Or in baking, where the subtle flavor of a lighter syrup would get lost. (I’m imagining an apple pie, where it paired with allspice and cinnamon and a slight tang of apple cider vinegar in a crust.) Some of the red stuff had notes that were off-putting – we’ll sell this syrup in a drum at a greatly reduced price to a packing house; they’ll sell it commercially as flavoring.
The important thing, as far as our season goes, is that the color and flavor came back. You can see this in the sample bottle at right. We need to eek one last big run out of the year, and we’re cautiously optimistic that the weather is lining up to cooperate. Some of the red maple trees in sunny spots in town have flowered, but in the woods the buds are still tight, albeit teetering.