What’s brown, sweet and sticky all over; originates from the days before white settlers ever stepped foot in the Americas and is unique in all of the world to the northeastern portion of North America? Maple syrup of course. An Afternoon Adventure Yesterday, we visited the Link Maple Farm in Taberg, NY. As we approached the farm, wood smoke wafted from the chimney stack as snow flurries slowly descended from the partly-cloudy heavens. The minute we got out of our car, the sweet smell of maple syrup was in the air. The scent intensified when we opened the sugar shack door and a pleasingly sweet plume of steam greeted us. Once inside we enjoyed learning about the maple production, the industry and some history. Here are some highlights about what we locals refer to as brown gold…
Origins The sweet juice of the gods with its original caramelized flavor dates back eons as Native Americans learned to harvest maple sap thousands of years ago. They would make small v-shaped cuts with stone tools in Sugar Maple trees in order to lap up and harvest the trees’ sweet sap (which they called “sweet water”). Over time, this particularly sweet sap, which traditionally runs in February, March and early April, has been enjoyed by millions around the world. This, all thanks to the sharing of the Sugar Maple secret by northeastern tribes with their white brethren in the early days of colonization (historians estimate that by the early 1680’s European settlers were harvesting and making maple products).
Since those early days, Maple Syrup has become a staple of American and European households. It has also held a historical significance during times of sugar shortages such as the Civil War when sugar cane (a primary crop of the southern United States harvested by slaves) became unavailable. It also played a significant role during World War II when American sugar rations were in place. In both instances families, businesses and the government used maple syrup as a sweetening substitute for sugar.
The Modern Importance of Maple SyrupToday, the maple industry is primarily driven by small family-owned operations in New York, Vermont and Maine. In Taberg, NY the Link Family has been operating their Maple Syrup business for 11 years. With growing demand for maple syrup around the world, operations such as a the Link Family Maple Farm have managed to find a sweet niche in a rural Americana landscape. “For three months out of the year, we work very hard from sun-up to sometimes past midnight harvesting and cooking,” said Jon Link at the farm’s annual open house (Mr. Link was first introduced to the concept of maple syrup making as a boy when his family collected sap in a few buckets and boiled it in a kettle in the backyard).
Wow! I did not know that… It takes some 40-50 gallons of sap to boil down into just one gallon of maple syrup. The process- from tapping the trees, to the collection of sap into containers, to transporting, to filtration, boiling and packaging is a labor of love for the Links and other area farmers. Upstate New York Maple producers such as those in Taberg, Blossvale and Camden are a vital part of the local economy as well as its heritage. Maple syrup production also plays an important part in providing additional income to many northeastern dairy farmers. Such farmers often have a side business in maple production during the months of Feb thru April.
Don’t fall for the fake stuffAs consumers continue towards healthier trends and look to “go green and lean”, many have cut store-bought products with low nutritional value out of their diets. Interestingly, most of the so called “Maple Syrup” sold in stores today (i.e. – products such as Aunt Jemima) are fakes. Instead of real maple syrup, these “fakies” are a mixture of high-fructose corn syrup (a leading culprit of the obesity epidemic) and artificial flavors. Such misleading marketing has created quite the uproar with consumers. Some folks have even gone as far as boycotting some brands altogether and starting Facebook campaigns such as “Just Say No to Fake Maple Syrup”
Nutrition In addition to the fact that real maple syrup beats out the faux dirty brown goop in bottles at the local grocers, it also holds the distinction of being “all natural”. Since real syrup is harvested from one of Mother Nature’s sweetest trees (the sugar maple) and the sap of the sugar maple is the lifeblood of the trees, it also has a unique nutritional content. In fact, real maple syrup has been proven to have important naturally occurring minerals including Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium and Zinc. That’s yet another thing that fake products just can’t provide.
Conclusion Well… on this little Central New York adventure, we learned a bunch about Maple Syrup, history and production. Our eyes were also opened up to the grass roots revolution that’s driving “fakies” off the shelf and putting an emphasis on the real stuff. If you and your loved ones have never taken the time to visit a real sugar shack, I hope that this article will inspire you to do just that. It’s truly a unique North American experience that connects us to our past and helps to keep the mom & pop farms of the red, white and blue going.
As usual- we’ve got a cabin waitin’ for ya, Christophe & Family
P.S. - If you or a loved one has fallen victim to fake maple syrup in your fridge or pantry, don’t panic. Take immediate action by dumping that ill-flavored junk down the drain. As soon as you’ve disposed of that artificial rubbish, go out and get yourself some authentic delicious New York Maple Syrup from a family owned retailer near you. Combining some real syrup with a couple of flapjacks, should help alleviate any emotional or physical harm brought on by by the fakies of the world!