Maple Sugaring

It’s late winter, so here in New England you can be sure of two things: it’s the beginning of mud season,


and maple sap is running. Trees are tapped. Literally. A spigot is screwed into the trunk, a bucket is hung

sap buckets

and liquid drips.



The sap is boiled down until it becomes syrup. It takes 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of maple syrup. Maple syrup is precious stuff. It’s always been expensive, which is why maple was one of the first synthetic flavors developed by food scientists. Most people have never tasted the real thing.

On Sunday I went to a special maple sugaring. There are fields behind Henry David Thoreau’s birthplace.

Thoreau house


They’re farmed by Gaining Ground.



Generous donors built a sugaring house.

sugar house

You need a building devoted to this seasonal task and its behemoth evaporator.


The fire has to be constantly stoked. The syrup tested. Farmers have been known to stay up all night keeping the fire going. Maple sugaring has long been a reason for a community gathering. There was maple cotton candy at this one.

maple cotton candy


The maple syrup made at this party, though, did not go home with the celebrants.

maple syrup jars


It will be tucked into bags of groceries at area food pantries.




  1. I put taps out here in NE Indiana last week. Got a pretty good run then it got too cold but today things are flowing nicely but tomorrow a BIG storm is coming so things will probably freeze up again. I only tap about 8 trees and boil my sap down in a turkey fryer. Got 3 pints of syrup from 20 gallons of sap from last week. Last year we made 2 gallons of syrup that we shared with my folks. May not seem like a lot but it’s fun and tasty!

    • Karen, where are you in NE Indiana? I’m in Ft. Wayne waiting for that snowstorm too!

  2. What an amazing post, thank you so much. It’s awesome and I am really envious. The only thing tapping a tree in my UK garden is a woodpecker.

  3. Gaining Ground is a fabulous organization. A couple of years ago they published one of the best cookbooks ever that I gave to everyone in my family. I am usually wary of cookbooks with recipes donated by volunteers that are sometimes full of canned soup and other processed gunk. Gaining Grounds donors are real cooks and sent in terrific recipes. Hope a sequel is in our future. Thanks, Terry, for highlighting them.

  4. I think you meant to say, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup. Honest mistake.

  5. I have indoctrinated my kids….they scorn fake maple syrup! They like the real thing.

    Last year at Sturbridge we got a little test kit, of different grades of syrup. The early batches, IIRC are various grades of A, thin and clear and light. I like grade B, it turns out, dark, thick and strong tasting! I hear that Vermonters sell the grade As, and keep the good stuff, grade B, for home use!

  6. We had Flickers at our woodpecker feeders today in East Tn. They do not mind sharing with the Downys. What a wonderful story about maple syrup.

  7. In North Carolina we have red bellied wood peckers. The ones at my feeder are Big Red (the male) and Phoebe (his wife). They do not want to share with anybody. Not even each other. I bought some maple syrup (supposed to be the real deal) but it is tasteless. I got it from a mail order co in Vermont. I will not do that again. I will look for Grade B from now on.(Thanks Rebecca for that info about the grades.) And thanks Terry for the pictures from the sugar shack. That is really special that they make the syrup and give it to the ones who cannot afford it. One year I was able to buy some maple sugar cotton candy at our State Fair. Oh! It was soooo good!

  8. YUM! Liquid gold! That is so great the syrup is given to those less fortunate. Maple Cotton Candy YUM!

  9. I’ve bought many bottles of maple syrup-the real stuff, and they just didn’t taste good, what brand is good to buy? For now, I stick to Aunt jemina

    • Get Grade B. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, they sell it. You’re right that many of the maple syrups bottled for the tourist trade are pale in flavor. A good maple syrup won’t taste like Aunt J’s – it has a depth of flavor and isn’t as sweet.