Of all the things that Vermont is famous for, maple syrup is close to the top of the list. Vermont maple syrup has a long, rich history dating back to before the founding of the United States -- indeed, before the British even settled the continent. As interesting as its history is, making Vermont maple syrup is even more so (and tastier, too).
Legend has it that the first maple syrup in Vermont was made by Native Americans who thought the clear liquid flowing from maple trees was water. However, when they tried to cook with it they found that it left a sticky, sweet glaze on their food. They quickly refined their process -- according to early British explorers, some Vermont natives existed almost entirely on maple syrup through the long northern winters.
The process of making maple syrup today isn't much different than what those Native Americans did hundreds of years ago. To make Vermont maple syrup, you really only need three things: maple sap, heat, and plenty of time.
Vermont maple syrup makers start by tapping the trees in late winter or early spring, before the sap starts to flow. To tap a tree, a maple syrup maker (or sugarmaker, in the parlance of the industry) bores a small hole in the wood and inserts either a metal spout with a hook or a long piece of tube. As the weather warms, sap will begin to flow through the hole and either collect in buckets hung from the spouts or run through the tubing.
Once the sap is collected, the sugarmaker needs to reduce it into syrup, by boiling away the water in the sap to leave behind the maple sugars. The process takes many long hours over a hot flame: sap is only about 2% sugar, so it takes a tremendous amount of boiling to get it to the proper concentration. About 40 gallons of sap will boil down to one gallon of maple syrup.
Over the years, Vermont's sugarhouses have perfected this process. Technology has certainly made it easier - many sugarmakers use modern equipment such as evaporators, reverse osmosis machines, and strong vacuum pumps to speed up the process.
If you want to learn more about sugaring, you can always sign up for a tour of one of the sugarhouses while its in operation. Many sugarhouses throughout the state allow visitors to come and watch the process of how to make Vermont maple syrup. You can visit the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association to find sugarmakers in your area and information on visiting them.
Or, if you want a simpler way to experience the glory of Vermont's maple syrup culture, you can attend the Whitingham Maple Festival in Whitingham, Vermont. This weekend-long celebration of everything maple includes sugarhouse tours, pancake breakfasts, sleigh rides, and a competition for the best syrup.
Are you craving pancakes and waffles yet? A Vermont rental home is a perfect place to make them for yourself. Now that's a sweet way to start a Vermont vacation.