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Spring in the Air and Sap in the Bag

Sap bag in a Blue Mountain Lake sugarbush. Courtesy of Tom Warrington.

With warm days and subfreezing nights in January and February maple season’s early arrival was inevitable. In Lake Placid, Mike Farrell at Cornell University’s Uihlein maple research field station finished tapping 5,000 trees on Presidents’ Day. Syrup makers from Keene Valley to the southern Adirondacks were already boiling by March 1.

According to Farrell, who operates a huge state-of-the-art sugarbush with 60 miles of tubing and reverse-osmosis technology that yields more than 2,200 gallons of syrup, “The lack of snow isn’t good and will likely shorten the season. We need snow to insulate the woods and keep them cool.”

Snow or no, many operations welcome the public, like Bolton Landing’s Up Yonda Farm, which boils up a storm in early March. The Cornell facility can be toured by families and groups; call (518) 523-9337 to arrange for a session with experts. In Tupper Lake the Wild Center taps into maple goodness now through April 1. March 17-18 and 24-25 are the official New York State maple weekends, with sugarbushes from Athol to Lowville flipping flapjacks and sharing samples.

Not all maple syrup is made by folks who tap thousands of trees. In fact, lots of Adirondackers collect sap from just a few sugar maples in their own dooryards, using traditional galvanized buckets, coffee cans and even plastic jugs. One recent innovation is the Sap Sak, a nifty setup of bag holder, handle and four-gallon plastic sack. If you’ve ever found moths and mice swimming in your old-time buckets you’ll appreciate how well these keep out thirsty vermin.

Some things to consider before you get out the brace and bit and start drilling: Be sure that big hardwood is really a sugar maple. Red or soft maples do have sap with some sweetness but sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is the best. For backyard advice check this folksy sugaring video. And the Adirondack Museum offers a thumbnail sketch of regional maple syrup history.

In the 2011 April issue we explored cooking with maple sap, which has many minerals and nutrients. To purchase a back issue call (518) 946-2191. For salad, soup and other dishes using raw sap visit Rose’s Prodigal Garden.

After you’ve brewed coffee from fresh maple sap or enjoyed your syrup on buttermilk waffles, try other ways to use this taste of the Adirondacks. From Adirondack Life‘s 2011 cookbook, Northern Bounty, here’s a delicious salad dressing:

Maple Vinaigrette

1 cup cider vinegar

Juice and pulp of a small onion, grated

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

¼ teaspoon poultry seasoning

¼ teaspoon dry mustard

¾ cup maple syrup

1 cup olive oil

Whisk together vinegar, onion pulp and juice, salt, paprika, Tabasco, poultry seasoning and dry mustard. Add maple syrup, whisking until blended. Pour into quart jar, add olive oil and shake well before using. Keeps at least a week in the refrigerator.

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