It happened early and our Northern Vermont Sugar Makers were ready! The first significant runs of sap from the maple trees came during the first week of February this year. Due to a fickle winter, with well below average snowfall, it was relatively easy to move around in the woods in order to maintain pipeline and tap the hard-rock sugar maple trees in our rugged mountain groves this year.
During February, the required combination of freezing nights followed by warmer days, which creates the sap flow, happened four or five times. The fresh, cold sap needs to be boiled quickly right after it is gathered to make the best maple syrup.
Once March arrived, things did not look so good for a while! The temperature was warm both day and night. The sap would run and eventually “peter out” without the required recharge of a good cold freeze. The forecast was for warm days and nights for a while… Could this be the end already?
Then it really came on strong! Towards the end of the second week in March, the perfect conditions prevailed. Freezing nights, warm days, and great sap runs, hooray! The sap flowed and flowed and everyone was busy putting up the 2016 crop of pure Vermont Maple Syrup.
Some days were warmer than others which created more of the “Amber Rich” and “Dark Robust” flavor profiles of maple syrup that many of our customers prefer. Then, it would be colder with a good strong run of sweet sap and our sugar makers would return to making more of the light colored, “Golden Delicate” maple syrup prized for it’s pure, delicate maple bouquet.
During the middle of March the sap would run for so long and so hard that it was difficult to keep up! The sap coming out of the trees was running 2-3% sweet. It had to be collected, then run through reverse osmosis (R.O.), a process where the slightly sweet sap is pumped through membranes to remove some of the water which increases capacity and saves time and energy — all without altering the quality or flavor of the finished product.
Long ago, our own Sam Cutting III, my dad, working with the maple industry and our sugar makers determined that taking the sap up to 10% sweet with an R.O., but, no more, produced the best tasting maple syrup in the most efficient way. Our sugar makers retain this standard to this day.
Even with concentrated sap, many long nights are put in during a good sap run to “boil in” all the sap that has run that day. Again, to make the best maple syrup, the sap needs to be boiled quickly; it can’t sit around which causes some degree of fermentation and produces less flavorful maple syrup.
All of Dakin Farm’s sugar makers use “wood fired” evaporators to boil maple sap into some of the best tasting maple syrup in the world. At the Howrigan farm (pictured above), well over a hundred cords of wood are put up, year round, and used during the spring maple season to “fire the evaporator”.
Back at Dakin Farm, we hosted our annual pancake breakfasts and Sugar on Snow maple parties the day before Easter (March 26) and during the official Vermont Maple Open House Weekend on April 2 & 3. Every day was busy from the beginning of breakfast at 7:30 AM to the end of the bluegrass music and boiling demonstrations at 4 PM.
One day we served 485 breakfasts and we are not even a restaurant! On another day, during open house weekend, we had a visit by Miss Vermont and Miss Teen Vermont. They were happy to help celebrate Vermont’s proud maple heritage with us, pass out samples and greet our guests.
Wait, it’s not over yet! Even though Easter had come and gone and the trees had been tapped since late January, the sap kept flowing. The weather stayed cold which kept the buds on the trees at bay. Every few days it would warm up and the sap would continue to flow.
Finally, this past week our sugar makers declared victory, stopped gathering what sap may have been left and pulled the taps from the trees and cleaned their sugar houses for one last time. Some people continue to make syrup this week, however, it gets very dark and hard to filter and the quality begins to deteriorate. Before this happens, our sugar makers stop making maple syrup.
Not all the results are in, however, it looks like a “banner year”. A large crop of maple syrup, excellent flavor and a full variety of each of the Vermont maple flavor profiles we pack and distribute from Dakin Farm. We have the fresh 2016 crop maple syrup packed in jugs and glass containers ready to ship across the country and around the world all year long. Or, if you’re passing by one of our two Vermont retail stores, stop in for a taste of the “New Crop” Vermont maple syrup and pick your favorite grade.