Holiday Green Food Gift Guide: CT Maple Syrup

Most of us pour it on our pancakes and waffles without a second thought, yet maple syrup is an agricultural product with a long history in the eastern US. European settlers learned to harvest sap from sugar maples and make syrup and sugar from Native Americans. Various Native American legends offer differing accounts of how the sweet sap was discovered, but my favorite is a more recent version. Maple Moon borrows from legend to weave the fictional tale of a young boy whose natural curiosity about nature led to his discovery of maple tree sap. It’s a wonderful book to read by the fire with a young child.

Bill Hill of Warrup's Farm demonstrating how a maple tree tap works

Maple syrup is only produced in Connecticut during a few short weeks in February and March, just as the spring thaw begins. A good harvest depends on weather conditions so yields will vary. According to the Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut, freezing nights and warm sunny days are necessary for sap to flow and be collected from taps during the day.

Asian Longhorned Beetles can devastate maple trees. Please report any sightings immediately and do not bring in firewood from other states.

Just recently, a  study conducted by Cornell University raised the specter of decreased maple sap production in the eastern US by the turn of the century due to climate change. Our beloved and iconic maple trees are also at risk of attack from Asian Longhorned Beetles, an invasive species with no natural predator that is making its way across the northeast. Please help protect our trees by reporting any beetle sightings via email to CAES.StateEntomologist@ct.gov or contact the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven:

Dr. Lou Magnarelli – 203.974.8440
Dr. Kirby Stafford – 203.974.8485
Dr. Victoria Smith – 203.974.8474

Pouring off the freshly made syrup from the evaporator once it's reached the right stage

Vermont may be our country’s biggest maple syrup producer but many farms in Connecticut tap their trees (the sugar bush) and hold maple sugaring demonstrations in their sugarhouses for the public’s enjoyment. In Fairfield County Warrup’s Farm in Redding, Ambler Farm in Wilton, and the Stamford Museum & Nature Center (Heckscher Farm) invite the public to visit and watch as large vats of sap collected from their tapped trees are boiled in wood-fired evaporators to reduce the water content, concentrate the sugar, and produce thick, delicious maple syrup.  Try tasting sap still sitting in a collection bucket (don’t use your finger!) and comparing it to the same sap that’s been processed into maple syrup. It’s a great way to appreciate the volume of sap necessary to produce a gallon of syrup – 40 to 1 according to the Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut. Visit their website for a complete list of Connecticut sugarhouses open to the public.

Brookview Sugar House makes wood fired maple syrup that they sometimes bottle for gift giving.

Now that you fully appreciate how special Connecticut maple syrup is, why not buy a few bottles as holiday gifts? I picked up a beautiful  glass bottle etched with a maple tree, bucket and falling leaves from Brookview Sugar House at the CT Wine Festival this past summer. I know it will make the perfect gift for someone special. Visit a winter farmers’ market to buy a few bottles or visit Brookview Sugar House, Rick’s Sugar Shack or McLaughlin Vineyards online to place an order.

Are you inspired to tap your own trees? Tap My Trees is a company dedicated to helping do-it-yourself types harvest their own sugar maple sap and turn it into homemade maple syrup. Perhaps you have a DIY family member or friend on your holiday gift list? Tap My Trees sells all the equipment and instructions (a book and DVD) necessary to help anyone through the entire process from preparation to cleanup. Maybe you’ll even get a bottle of their syrup as a gift next year.

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