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Jack Zaleski, Published May 03 2014

Zaleski: It doesn’t get any sweeter than this

Chelsea, Vt. - I’ve discovered another way to enjoy the sweetness of my triplet granddaughters: sugaring in the woods near their Vermont country home a few miles outside of Chelsea. It doesn’t get any sweeter.

The sap was rising in the big sugar maple trees where the girls and their mom had set taps and hung covered buckets. Subfreezing at night and warming during the day were perfect conditions to fill the buckets. We checked levels every day, and every day poured the clear liquid into larger tubs to carry out of the trees. Then into tall kettles on wood-fired stoves to cook the sap down over several hours into the best maple syrup I’ve ever had.

Like so many Vermont sugar makers, my daughter’s is a very small spring chore (a happy chore) that produces syrup unique to her trees and taste. Color and intensity of sweet are determined not only by the tree sap but also by cooking time. It’s an art. The sap is brought to a steady simmer, water evaporates, and the forming syrup thickens and darkens. If it hangs on a spoon, it’s ready. If it tastes just right, it’s ready.

The ratio of sap to syrup ranges from 10-15 gallons to one quart. It depends on how long it’s cooked, and cooking time determines color, consistency and taste. We found that with a little experience with small batch slow boiling, we could refine sap into light, clear syrup that was subtly sweet in taste and aroma, flowed perfectly and took on a beautiful soft amber color.

The triplet girls are experts, and they did not hesitate to instruct me in everything from affixing taps in the ancient trees to managing the fire in the woodstove to straining the hot syrup through cheesecloth into mason jars. They got it right. When done, we’d put up 12 quarts of maple syrup, and savored it every day on pancakes, French toast, ice cream and in coffee. Really good stuff.

And made so much sweeter because of the joy the girls brought to the work in the spring woods.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.