After a few days of snow and rain and fog, the sun broke through this morning and we took a drive up to South Face Farm in Ashfield for a sugar shack breakfast. We ate maple syrup on pancakes, French toast, bacon, sausage, and corn fritters. And pickles too. Pickles are the traditional antidote to all that maple syrup. When sap is being boiled down great clouds of maple-scented steam billow out of the roof of the sugar shack. It’s the best smell in the world.
The sap starts flowing when days get up above freezing temperatures. The sugaring season lasts as long as we still have cold nights. Once the nighttime temperature begins to stay above freezing, the trees begin to bud and the sap turns bitter. The whole operation is at the mercy of the weather. This past winter has been extraordinarily warm. The sap started flowing early this year, but if spring comes too quickly, the season will end early too.
Two rows of little sample bottles of syrup are lined up in the front window of the sugar shack, one for each day sap was boiled. The bottom row are from last year, and you can see that it was a pretty good season, with 17 days of syrup production. Above them are this year’s samples. There have been three days of boiling already in February, though they weren’t boiling this morning. Usually the boiling doesn’t begin until March. I’ve often heard that the syrup starts off a pale golden color at the beginning of the season, and gradually darkens as the season progresses. But you can see in last year’s samples a lot of fluctuation in the color. Any idea why this is?