Maple SugarMaple Sugar
by Tim Herd

“From sap to syrup: The history, lore, and how-to behind this sweet treat”

Short (under 150 pages) and sweet, a concise review of a very seasonal topic of interest. Here’s a nice little smattering of history, botany, technology, and folklore.  Here are illustrations of sugar maples, red maples, black maples, leaves and bark and twigs and samaras.  (Samaras are those “twirlies” that spin the seeds away like mini-helicopters.)  Here are legends from Native American lore explaining how people first discovered maple syrup, and accounts of the first European adventures with this treat.  Here is a compendium of all the medicinal uses of the maple, from poultice to eyewash to cough suppressant.  Here is a cross-section of a maple trunk and a discussion of the uses of its wood.  Here are side trips into incidental related trivia, such as tea brewed from staghorn sumac, and why the maple leaf on the Canadian flag is shaped the way it is.

But the bulk of the book is a step-by-step illustrated account of technique.  First, the traditional method, tapping trees with buckets and spiles, boiling sap in giant cauldrons in sugar shacks deep in the woods.  Then, modern improvements such as running the sap from the trees in long tubes, and boiling it in giant evaporating boilers.  For backyard hobbyists, there’s a simplified bare-bones method that uses equipment anyone might have at home in their own kitchen.   And at last, there is a collection of two dozen recipes using maple syrup or maple sugar.

Baked BeansMaple FudgeI’ve lived all my life in the maple region of North America, love real syrup on my pancakes when the opportunity arises, love crunching those lovely leaf-shaped granular cakes of sugar. Every year, I think what fun it would be to actually go and watch the sugaring-off process, — and yet somehow I’ve never done that. After browsing this lovely little book, I’m thinking of it more than ever. Maybe this year, I’ll finally get around to watching the process in action.  After all, I do live right in the heart of maple country!