One of the most beautiful trees in our forests – the maple – stands tall, stately, and graceful, with handsome, shapely leaves. This amazing tree not only gives us beautiful wood, but also weeps a sap so sweet and syrupy, many of us can’t imagine a pancake breakfast without it.
The “running of the sap” is the discharge of sugary liquid from maple trees during late winter. Maple trees are tapped by boring a hole into the bark, inserting a short tube or “spile,” and collecting the sap into a holding tank through plastic tubing. This liquid sap is concentrated by boiling out the liquid to yield a solution that must be dense enough to contain 66.7% sugar. A single tap can produce approximately 10 gallons of sap and yield about one quart of finished syrup. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup! The syrup is canned in sterilized containers made airtight for storage.
How does such a majestic tree lend us its sweetness? The process begins with carbohydrates that accumulate in the stem during summer. These carbohydrates are converted to starch when the weather becomes cool in autumn. Before the tree loses its colorful leaves, large quantities of starch are stored in the wood. When temperatures rise in late winter and early spring, the starch is broken down and converted into sucrose, pushing the sap into the wood vessels (xylem). It is the action of the water in the xylem freezing at night and then thawing in the warmer daytime that forces the cells’ water pressure to build and send the sap upwards toward the dormant buds. The water-filled vessels are the key to us being able to tap the tree for its sugary delight. The sugar, in effect, comes from the wood of the tree and is there to supply the unopened buds of the tree with “food.”
Europeans learned how to tap maple trees by observing the Native Americans, who traded “sweet water” with the colonists. In 1764, a Sugar Act was passed on the colonists, imposing high tariffs on imported sugar. That lent a hand to the popularity among colonists of tapping maple trees for sugar. Currently, maple syrup is produced in several states and Canada. Vermont is known for its maple syrup, and its state tree is, of course, the sugar maple.
Maple syrup comes in different grades based upon its hue. Usually, the lighter the color, the more delicate is the flavor. Next is a medium-colored amber, good for table syrup. The Grade A or B darker maple syrup is stronger flavored and often used for baking.
The recipe of the month is easy to prepare, but turns a typical chicken dish into a sweet sensation!
RECIPE OF THE MONTH
ROASTED LEMON MAPLE CHICKEN
One 4 pound chicken
2 lemons, one quartered; one for juicing
6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1 small onion, quartered
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel one of the lemons, removing long, thick strips of zest. Reserve the zest and juice the lemon into a bowl.
Combine the maple syrup and olive oil into the bowl and whisk to combine.
Rub the chicken all over with the lemon zest and the garlic.
Place the quartered lemon, onion, garlic, and lemon zest in the cavity of the chicken.
Brush with lemon juice-maple mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place chicken in roasting pan and place in oven. After 30 minutes, brush more of the lemon-maple mixture over the chicken and again after another 30 minutes. Continue roasting for an additional 20 minutes or until the juices run clear when cut between the thigh and the body. Let rest for ten minutes.