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Boiling with Bobo's Mountain Sugar

Christine Mitchell Adams March 27, 2015

We're back with Tina as she and the Bobo's Mountain Sugar team boil the sap that they've collected the past couple of weeks. It's been a long cold winter, so boiling is a welcome sign of warmer temps and spring. Or, more accurately, mud season! 

As you predicted the last time we spoke, the days have finally gotten warmer and the nights are steadily cool. Has the sap run yet?

Yes, the sap has started and stopped - typical March weather. We had a great run on March 11th and boiled a full tank (2,000 gallons of sap). Then we got a small run March 17th and boiled about 900 gallons. It looks like the weather is going to break this week, and the sap will finally release. 

How long does the start/stop of the sap running typically last?

Once the sap releases, it will run every day until the nighttime temperatures are consistently above freezing. Then sap gets too funky to make syrup. On the flip side, sap will stop running any day it's below freezing. 

Once you’ve collected the sap, how does the boiling process work?

The boiling process involves boiling the sap and removing the water. The sap is boiled and boiled until the sugar content reaches 66.9%. That’s when it is officially Vermont maple syrup. The sugar content of sap is 1-3%, so it can take a long time to get to 66.9%. The boiling can be done on a kitchen stove or on long evaporator pans in a sugarhouse; the principle is still the same. Of course in a sugarhouse there can be plenty of technology and equipment to help you make syrup faster and more efficiently. 

Does a super-cold winter, like this one, affect the trees' sap production?

I don't think so. I think sap production is more affected by how quickly warm temperatures come, which signals the end of sugaring. Or a super-cold spring can delay the start of sugaring by weeks. 

I read on your blog that you had a dark syrup season last year. Is it a dark syrup or light syrup season this year?

We've made a very dark grade on our last two boils, but it's starting to lighten so we'll keep you posted.  

The Vermont spring (muddy and unpredictable) plays a role I'm sure. What are the challenges and rewards of this season that makes the experience worthwhile?

A friend of mine, and fellow sugarmaker, says, "If you can drive the roads, you aren't making sugar." He's commenting on the fact that the best sap runs happen when the days are 50F and the roads just fall apart with all the mud. If the roads are still holding up, the sap isn't running. 

I love watching spring come and being tied to it, to the woods, and to being outside. From the very cold days of early frozen spring to the warm nights of peepers and T-shirts in mid-April. It's the most drastic and formidable seasonal change we have, and there's so much to observe. Maple syrup is spring; spring and trees in a bottle. And you get to eat it!

Thanks Tina for taking us through the boiling process! We'll be reconnecting in a couple weeks to talk about cooking with maple syrup and to share some delicious recipes here on the blog. 

Photos taken by Skye Chalmers

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