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Sugar on Snow
By Susan Nye

The calendar tells us that spring has sprung even though there is a twelve or
fifteen foot snow bank at the end of my driveway. Still we can’t deny, the days
are finally getting longer, warmer and sunnier although the nights are still
pretty darn cold. This change in the weather heralds not just the tail end of
winter but sugaring season. Take a long walk through the country and you
may spot lots of metal buckets hanging from maple trees. Or more likely
you’ll see a strange tangle of plastic tubing running from tree to tree.

In the coming weeks, sap will be collected from sugar maples across New
England and in Canada. Depending on the weather, maple syrup production
can begin as early as February and can continue through to April. Freezing
nights and warm days are needed to get the sap flowing. To draw the sap, taps
or spouts are inserted into the maple trees. Historically, buckets were then
hung on the taps to collect the sap. Today most syrup producers attach plastic
tubing not buckets to the taps. This innovation, while less picturesque, saves
the back breaking work of gathering and emptying bucket after bucket of sap.
The tubing deposits the sap directly into large metal tanks.

After collecting the sap, it goes to the sugar house for sugaring-off. Sugaring-
off is the simple, but long and tedious process of boiling the sap until the
sugars concentrate into sweet syrup. It takes lot and lots of boiling and
evaporation to transform the watery sap into the amber gold we enjoy on our
pancakes. One gallon of pure maple syrup starts out as roughly forty gallons
of sap.

Since sap runs during the day, most sugaring-off is done at night. Long past
midnight and into the wee hours of the morning, sap will boil and steam. To
pass the time and avoid nodding off, tall tales and maybe even a few lies are
swapped as the sap slowly turns to gold. Not surprisingly, all that boiling
produces lots and lots of steam. Unless you want to turn your house into a
sauna don’t try to make syrup in your kitchen. It’s best that you take your
sugaring-off outside or, better yet, to a well ventilated sugar house. Drive
through rural New England and you will see large sheds in many a backyard.
If the shed has a stovepipe, it may do more then store lawn mowers in winter
and snow blowers in summer, it may be a sugar house.

Even if you don’t have a sugar house you can celebrate the sugaring season
with a “sugar on snow” party. You don’t need any fancy equipment to
celebrate this old New England tradition. On the next sunny day gather a
group of friends and plenty of kids. Buy some pure maple syrup from a local
producer, or if you must from the supermarket. Find an old pot, add some
syrup and boil it outside on your barbecue grill or fire pit. It will take some
time, so you can build a few snowmen, shovel the driveway or just swap a few
tall tales or lies with your neighbors.

Don’t stray far from the fire and keep a watchful eye on the pot of simmering
syrup, checking it often until it reaches about 235 degrees. You can use a candy
thermometer to determine the temperature. As soon as it reaches temperature,
be careful not to burn yourself while you gently drizzle the thick, hot syrup
onto clean snow. Let the cold snow do its work and voilà, the thick syrup will
quickly harden into sweet, chewy taffy. Party revelers just lift the taffy out of
the snow and enjoy!

Click here for Susan's recipe for roasted fruit

About the author: Susan Nye lives in New London, New Hampshire. A self-confessed
“foodie”, she likes nothing better than a crowd of family and friends around her table. To
learn more about her cooking classes, catering services and find more recipes visit her
web site at or email her at
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