The Craft of Maple Sugaring
In order to produce the best maple syrup, Coombs Family Farms watches for signs to know when it is time to tap our maple trees. While the typical Vermont sugaring season begins in March and lasts from four to six weeks, there is no set time to tap maples. The best conditions for sap to run are freezing nights followed by warming, sunny days. After a few consecutive days and nights of these “cold to warm” temperature swings, you’re ready to harvest. The annual run is over when the freezing nights end and the trees begin to bud.
Maple farmers typically tap their Maple trees before the sap begins to run. Drill your hole about three inches deep, two feet up from the ground on the side of the tree trunk that receives the longest exposure to sun – generally the south-facing side. Typically, the sap is a clear, slightly sweet liquid containing about 1-4% sugar. It will take 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. To produce the finest quality maple syrup, the sap should be evaporated as soon as possible.
As the water is boiled off, the liquid becomes sweeter and more concentrated, and begins to move towards the front of the pan. This is when the boiling sap turns golden. When it reaches 7 degrees F above the boiling point of water, it has become maple syrup. What was 98% water and 2% sugar is now 33% water and 67% sugar. The sweet-smelling steam is a sure sign that the sugar-making season is in full swing!
Just like the maple syrup process, making maple candy is half science and half art. The science part is easy; the art takes years of experience to perfect. Arnold Coombs’ grandfather perfected his recipe in 1925, and this same tasty recipe has been passed down from grandfather to father to son. Arnold first got a taste for maple candy as a four-year-old boy, exploring the candy kitchen. He still remembers feeling like a king as the candy packers – Marjory, Claire, Dot and all the others – motioned him over to their tables and offered him any pieces of candy that had gotten broken. Arnold’s walks through the candy kitchen quickly became a daily ritual!