This is the first of a two-part series about local maple syrup—which is rare in these parts. Next month we’ll visit Winfield Farm in Tinicum Township, Bucks County.
by guest blogger Carolynn Fedor,
When Jim Myers is thirsty while working during maple tapping season, he tips a glass under a tree tap and takes a sip of maple sap straight from the tree. The clear liquid is thicker than water and reveals just a hint of sweetness and flavor. Jim has one customer who buys gallons of sap every year. In some Asian countries the sap is considered a healthy elixir, rich in minerals and good for the bones.
Sue and Jim Myers of Ridge Valley Farm in Green Lane, PA have been producing maple syrup at their Montgomery County farm since 2000, and from their 600 taps and contributions from area maples, 400 gallons of syrup were bottled in 2016.
Ridge Valley Farm is one of the few maple syrup retail operations in the Bucks/Montgomery County area. Most Pennsylvania maple producers are on Pennsylvania’s northern border with New York State, or in the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania where the ideal weather conditions for sugaring exist.
What are the ideal conditions? Temperatures below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. This causes the maple tree to pull sap and its nutrients from its roots to support the tree. We humans steal just a bit of it from the tree to make maple syrup.
But for the Myers, 2016 was a short season due to uncooperative weather — there were lots of temperature swings last winter.
Could climate change be the culprit? Scientists are tracking when maple syrup producers are tapping their trees. Typically, catching maple sap happens in February. But with warmer winters, many farmers are tapping in January.
It’s a very labor-intensive process too. Once the sap is captured from the tree, it has to be transported to the “sugar shack” where it is boiled down carefully to produce our favorite pancake topping.
Here’s some interesting facts, and why maple syrup costs more than Aunt Jemima (which is just flavored corn syrup):
- 30-55 gallons of sap produce one gallon of syrup
- Each tap yields an average of 10 gallons of sap per season
- One gallon of maple syrup weighs about 11 pounds.
- One gallon of syrup makes 8 pounds of maple sugar.
[Maple syrup facts courtesy of the PA Maple Syrup Producers Council]
The natural sweetener has become a common ingredient in many food products and in cooking in general. Watch for locally produced maple granola, maple coated nuts, snack mix, carbonated drinks and maple flavored water at area markets.
Sue Myers sells her maple granola, maple-coated walnuts and pecans, and maple snack mix at Oakmont Farmers Market in Havertown as well as farmer’s markets in Phoenixville, Emmaus, Saucon Valley, West Chester and Ambler. Here is one of her favorite maple syrup recipes.
Sue’s Sweet Potatoes and Brussel Sprouts
2 strips of bacon cut into ½ pieces or you can crumble bacon after frying
1 lb Brussels sprouts thinly sliced
2 large sweet potatoes peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 TBSP butter
- Fry bacon in skillet and remove to paper towel. Add brussels sprouts to same skillet and cook, stirring frequently until tender (5 minutes). Remove to bowl and add bacon pieces.
- Add sweet potato and butter to skillet and cook until light brown about 3 min per side. Add brussels sprouts and bacon to sweet potatoes add maple syrup and stir to heat for 2 to 3 minutes.