Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mainely Maple

High: 42°F
Low: 25°F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with snow showers arriving late. Accumulation of up to one inch.
Earlier this week, the caninaturalist and I penned an angry letter to Punxsutawney Phil. We’re not proud. It was a rash thing to do, born out of animus and the difficulty one of us is having re-acclimating to frozen New England after spending 8 days in the Caribbean. It was wrong of us to take out this frustration on a work-a-day rodent just trying to earn an honest living. We see that now. Really. And to be honest, we’re a little embarrassed.

Here’s why.

Since we posted that memo to Phil, little tin buckets have been sprouting on maple trees all over Central Maine. At first, we attributed this to Yankee optimism or outdated calendars. But, after a few days, the evidence is clear: it’s sugaring season.

Maine is the second biggest producer of maple syrup in the U.S. (better watch out Vermont, we’re gaining on you!). Each year in early spring, just about anyone with a few sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) and a spigot enters the syrup-making business.

Much of this is pure tedium for the canines in our neighborhood. Ari only cares about a sugar maple leaf (the best way of telling if a tree will yield the right kind of sap) if it is blowing across the trail and can be pounced upon as if it were a vole or one of our rescue cats.

She certainly doesn’t seem to care that, during the winter months, trees stop growing and, instead, store excess starches in their sapwood. When temperatures rise to somewhere around 40° F, the tree begins converting that starch to sugar as a way of jump-starting spring growth. When the temperature drops below freezing at night, the sugars begin to drop, too. This ping-ponging effect creates a pressure differential inside the tree that causes the sap to run. If some enterprising human has thought to drill a hole in that tree and place a bucket below it, then that sap can be collected and boiled into syrup.

I’ve taken the caninaturalist to see some sap-leeching trees and logs. She wasn’t very impressed. And the aluminum sap buckets aren’t very interesting to her either. But the boiling process is. We recently helped our neighbor convert her sap into syrup. It takes 10 gallons of sap to produce one quart of syrup. That’s a lot of boiling—sometimes even two straight days of cooking off the excess moisture. As the sap cooks, wonderful caramelized smells start wafting off the boiler. That’s when Ari gets interested.

It doesn’t matter that dogs only have about 1700 taste buds on their tongues (compared to our 9000). Forget about the fact that they are less obsessed with sweet than we are. This dog loves syrup. A lot. She once tried to eat the cap from an empty syrup bottle, and probably would have in a crazed attempt to glean the very last drop of sweetness from the plastic, had I not insisted she spit out the cap. God help us all if she figures out how to open the pantry where we keep our syrup stores. There isn’t enough insulin in the world to combat a rowdy husky mix coked up on gallons of liquid sugar.

To be honest, a good part of me understands Ari’s love affair with syrup. Sugar is energy; it’s life-giving. That’s what spring is all about. Reminders of that fact are flowing out of every sugar maple in New England right now. How could someone not be excited by this fact?

We’re sorry, Phil. We never should have doubted you. Maybe we could make it up to you with a big plate of pancakes? We know just where to find the perfect topping.


JB's Big World said...

Ari was waiting for the finished product, the syrup! Interesting post......we definitely don't harvest sugar where we live. Did Phil answer your letter? :^)

Turbo the Sibe said...

This is one of those odd things that it is difficult to imagine how humans figured out what to do.

Maverick the Pirate said...

Harrrrrr Ari
those buckets look like they could turn in to a mess if it fell off of the tree Harrrr. Can i come over for pancakes too Harrrr
Cap'n Maverick the Pirate

-The Mullin Clan's Mommy- said...

We like pancakes & syrup, too.
-Cosmos & Juneau-

The Army of Four said...

Oh, wow. OK. See, at first, I thought people just hung buckets on trees then the syrup fairies came and put bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's or something in them. The only trees around here with sticky stuff is some pines that get big balls of goop in them. You should have heard how excited Mom was when I got one stuck to the top of my head one time! I don't think they do anything useful with this stuff.
Play bows,
PS: Stormy posted a picture your mom might want to see today, Ari!

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...


Another sweet khanine pal!!

I still anything my nose finds AND I khan get my paws on!!!


PeeEss: Owl say woo should go chekhk out Storm's khontribution to The AO4 today!

jan said...

Ten gallons for one quart. I had no idea. It always amazes me that our ancestors figured out how to hang buckets and boil liquid to make something so delicious.

G Man said...

Ari, can you catch squirrels in those buckets? Hee, hee, that would make the perfect squirrelsicle!


Me & my puppies said...

Once again, entertaining, interesting & educational, when is your book coming out!

brucesc said...

It's so nice to get so much info with your funny posts too. Glad you liked my flying egret. Your pal Comet barks at them, which I don't like.

Singing Bear said...

Thank you for visting my blog. I like yours very much. Ari is a beautiful dog. I really wish I had a dog like Ari. We have cat called Solomon but I can't take him for walks in the local hills and forests, so I go alone.

May I link to you?


Gus and Louie said...

Mmmm you can send some of that our way.. We like maple syrup...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus and Louie

JB's Big World said...

Ari looks like a fox? No, I don't think so.....

Lorenza said...

Sure is very interesting to know about the maple syrup!
Here we get a very fake one!
But it tastes good with pancakes!
Kisses and hugs

Farmgirl_dk: said...

You made her spit out the cap?? Now what kind of fun are you? But what a good dog for obeying! Sometimes, I have to "go in" after the offending object when Roxy won't "leave it", as politely requested.
Roxy does the happy dance when we're cooking chicken. She really likes the smell of that. This doesn't bode well for those little chickie babes chirping in my downstairs bedroom, now, does it?

Simba said...

Mummy loves maple syrup. Its so clever the way it comes out of the trees.

Simba x

John Theberge said...

Our little taste of spring didn't last long did it? I had a dog once that loved syrup too, actually he'd anything except for onions and black olives.

Sandpiper said...

You're such a good writer and a great way to start the day. We're seeing maple sugar buckets here now, too. I love this time of year, but today the weather guy on the TV is saying ice pellets are on the way, whatever that means. :)

Thanks for stopping by my blog and for the kind comments.

Have a great day!!

Marigold said...


sugarcreekstuff said...

When my girl was in Brownies, we took a field trip where they make Maple Syrup. The Indians used to tap more than just Maple, other trees have sweet stuff too. They also didn't have pots to cook them in, they used wooden troughs which if put into a fire would burn, so they put hot rocks into the liquid to evaporate. They also didn't have containers to store syrup, they boiled it all the way to sugar and used it for preserving other foods. Amazing.

chasingsquirrelswithrusty said...

Syrup sounds yummy!Do you think mom will go get me some? Those trees with syrup in them look very interesting!
Come see me chase ducks!

The Daily Echo said...

Woo - Pancakes! We LOVE pancakes! I didn't know our bottle of syrup came from a bucket on a tree.

Kapp pack said...

Our Dad always makes sure he stocks up on Maine maple syrup when he has to visit his corporate office in Portland. We think it's yummy too!

Puppy slurps, Canyon

umekotyan said...

Good evening Kathryn and Ari.
It was thought that it was a special product in Canada ..maple syrup
And, when butter and syrup are put up to the pancake, I feel considerable happiness.
Thank you for teaching that can how to do maple syrup.
The energy of sugar is good for the energy of the life, especially for the brain.
A wonderful weekend with the pancake. :)

from loved ume tyan