If you are fortunate to live in the only suitable terroir in the world for maple syrup, the Greater Northeast, described as a triangle running from Michigan to New Brunswick (Canada) to West Virginia, you may also have luck in finding a farm to visit that is part of the fantastic revival of the art of maple sugaring. Even better, it may be a maple sugaring operation which also runs a café serving up pancakes during the sugaring season.
Our Maple Directory may provide a way to search for a farm, like Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock (Berkshire County), Massachusetts (less than 30 miles from this maple syrup lover’s home in Albany in upstate New York), which during the maple season operates its “Calf-A” named in a punny manner. Open weekends, beginning in mid-February to early April (closed Easter Sunday), Ioka Valley Farm, over 25 years ago in 1997, converted their farm’s calf barn into the “Calf-A” serving pancake meals (plus waffles, French toast and a surprising array of other goodies) with their own maple syrup during the sugar season.
Last year’s maple sugaring season prompted a drive over to Hancock in the Berkshires for a simple triple stack of buttermilk pancakes plus pecans. This season, this pancake lover upgraded on his visit to the Calf-A with a triple stack of buttermilk pancakes plus the addition of blueberries and pecans. Good decision.
But also a good decision for this senior (who avoids adding pounds by the use each morning of a body weight scale) to avoid indulging in “Uncle Don’s Favorite” (a/k/a on the Calf-A menu as “The Hungry Man’s Meal”) of “Two Belgian buttermilk waffles topped with ice cream, our own homemade strawberry sauce, and whipped cream. Also includes 3 bacon or 3 sausage, homemade applesauce, three mini corn muffins w/ maple butter.”
Last year’s maple sugaring season was extremely successful, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reporting that the national production of maple syrup was up 35 percent to 5.03 million gallons from the previous season. If Ioka Valley Farm’s more than 14,000 taps in its sugar bush is any indication of the overall national production of maple syrup in 2023, this year’s sugaring season will also be very successful.
We understand Michael Pollan’s advice that “sugar is sugar” and processed foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients should be avoided. Nonetheless it’s important to note the many reasons to choose maple syrup (or honey) when a sweetener is required for a recipe.
Although limiting intake of calories especially from processed and industrial food is important in our age of widespread obesity, a quarter cup of maple syrup, unlike sugar, supplies 62 percent of your daily riboflavin requirement, about 9 percent of calcium, 8 percent of zinc, and 5 percent of potassium and less maple syrup than sugar is required to sweeten a recipe.
Ioka Valley Farm, operated by the Leab family since 1936, has a well-chosen farm name especially notable during the sugaring season. This New England farm family took the name for their farm “from a native American word meaning ‘beautiful.'”
This maple syrup lover, who believes that “the future of food is Local,” would add it’s also beautiful to appreciate the history behind our the 21st century sugaring season in the Greater Northeast.
As we noted in our review of Katie Webster’s Maple, 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup, the earliest history of the process of boiling down maple sap to extract sugar is unknown but early European explorers and settlers observed native Americans do so and soon emulated them.
By the early 18th century the conversion of sap to rock maple sugar was common in Canada and the northern states. In the early 19th century production had become so widespread that Quakers and abolitionists urged the use of maple sugar as an alternative to plantation sugar cane produced by slave labor. The initiative was supported by Thomas Jefferson who planted maples at Monticello in an effort to produce his own sugar (he was not successful).
With global warming, so far we remain fortunate in upstate New York, the Berkshires, Vermont and other northern climes to have successful sugaring seasons. Another reason to support the movement to fight against climate change.
An article last spring in Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club, How Maple Syrup Producers Are Protecting Their Product From the Climate, A sweet story of adaptation by Nikki Kolb (4/21/22) noted this important benefit of swapping maple syrup for other industrial sweeteners.
“While producing maple syrup has its environmental challenges, when it comes to sweeteners, switching from heavily subsidized cane and corn syrup to maple is still one of the most sustainable swaps (emphasis in original) consumers can make to protect vital forests and encourage carbon drawdown.”
(Frank W. Barrie, 3/23/23)