One sure sign of spring is the bustling work of our maple producers: repairing lines, checking the taps, tuning up equipment, and, at last, boiling sap. Every year we look forward to this local food treasure: maple syrup and all of its products such as maple sugar, and maple cream.
New York is the world’s third largest producer of maple syrup and the maple industry in Northern New York is expanding.
Maple is a tremendous natural resource for the North Country and a delicious local sweetener. Northern New York Maple Specialist Michael Farrell, director of Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest, a maple syrup research and extension field station in Lake Placid, says we have the potential to significantly expand our production.
Most of our current producers have tapped the trees they own and would need to expand into other properties to grow their businesses. Landowners may gain agricultural tax relief if they lease their trees to a maple producer – or perhaps get into the business themselves. Find more information can be found online.
Did you know that maple syrup has nutritious qualities? Trees take up plenty of minerals, including calcium, that are present in the sap along with antioxidants. While the more concentrated syrup is at least 66% sugar, the other nutrients are still there. And because growing and processing conditions vary from place to place, syrups may have slightly different flavors from fruity to woody to caramel. Experiment with recipes by reducing a couple of tablespoons of other liquid while adding maple syrup in place of sugar.
There is a new maple product you are soon going to be hearing more about. The beverage industry is now tapping into (no pun intended) the potential of maple sap as a healthy drink. Not the syrup, the sap. Maple farmers have long known that they can drink the sap straight from the tree. It boasts nutrients and a light sweetness. One of the virtues that is repeatedly touted on all the maple water websites is “more manganese than a cup of kale!” Well, don’t give up on your kale, but do try out some maple water (sap) if you get a chance. It’s delicious.
It is not just maple syrup being produced from our forests any more. The Uihlein Maple Forest and Extension Center is producing birch syrup as well as black walnut syrup. Don’t expect these to replace maple syrup as a staple on your table any time soon. For one thing, the flavors are different.
Black walnut is sweet and delicious but definitely different from maple and you can combine it with maple syrup for a whole new flavor. Birch trees can be tapped near the end of the maple sap run, so the seasons complement each other. Birch syrup is not something you are going to pour on your pancakes, but it is sweet and has great potential as a flavoring in cooking. Chefs are going wild over it.
Photo: A tapped black birch (courtesy Shannon Houlihan).