March is a very special time up here in Vermont. While we have a couple of feet of snow on the ground right now, and another foot expected tonight – the sun is warm, and the light is growing more golden, and life filled. Birds are singing again, and signs of spring are many.
The Sugar Maple Trees are waking up - and the warmth of the daytime sun is coaxing their sap to rise up and feed the dormant buds. This is the sweetness we tap into to make one of natures most treasured gifts – Maple Syrup!
Sugaring season in Vermont is about so much more than making a product to sell. It is about community and gathering to keep company in the growing light. While many sugar makers do it for the extra income it provides, they almost all welcome guest to their sugar houses. They welcome the company as the work is simple but requires constant attention and lots of time. And… please don’t call them a sugar shack… Stanley Fitch my neighbor always told me that there is nothing about these sturdy and beautiful structures that deserves the name shack! I miss Stanley and Elaine. This season will be the first time I’ve been in Vermont that I will not be able to sit with Stanley and Elaine in their son in law’s sugar house as they passed earlier this fall. But I will always remember them and their stories sitting by the “arch” with the smell of sap coming to boil and steam billowing out the vents at the top of their sweet sugar house.
Through their wonderful stories I learned about how they and others lived in community here, enjoying times spent sugaring sharing a cider donut, sugar on snow, and tales of all the colorful characters who make Vermont the place it is.
There is an art to making maple syrup. Many do it but only a few have the attention to detail that makes for really pure and richly flavorful syrup. Our sugar maker – Ray Lewis of Square Deal Farm is one of the best, which is why we partnered with him when I started Farmers To You. Please watch our video where I interviewed him and he revealed his secret to the best syrup.
Ray is one of the few makers who is certified organic and interestingly, as he tells me, he almost never has any grade B syrup. “If you keep your lines and equipment very clean, then you will not get bacteria in your lines which is what discolors the syrup and gives it the musky flavor of the dark syrups.” I think is the cleanest and most delightful I have ever tasted! He also knows that some of the modern technology like reverse osmosis should be used sparingly otherwise the syrup just does not taste right! Shortcuts always have a cost!
When we partner with farmers and producers – we search out people like Ray who are real craftspeople and take immense pride in their art.
Part of our mission here at Farmers To You is to support these craftspeople so their art can continue. And also to support them so that the community they support remains strong and can continue to feed us!
Thank you for supporting good food, community, and craft!