If  you’ve never eaten an entire tray of maple sugar candy in one sitting, you don’t know what you’re missing. Maple sugaring time the best farm time ever. It starts in late winter when there are a couple of warm days that switch back into cold–the sap runs in the maple trees, gets tapped, and boiled down into maple syrup, boiled more into maple butter, and boiled a little bit more until it crystalizes. That’s the final stage of its journey of deliciousness.

If you can find a local sugar house–or vacation your way up to one, it’s a treat. I’m in New England, so I’ve got a sugar house right down the road. Every year, I go and stock up on sugar and honey.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Maple Syrup

Maple syrup was invented by the indigenous people of the Northeast. Future New Englanders and Canadians contintued the tradition around the “sugar moon,” the first full moon of spring.

There are several grades of maple syrup to choose from, and two different scales.

Old scale:

The USDA changed the way maple syrup is graded. You might not have realized there were several grades of syrup to begin with. There used to be four grades. Each had a certain color profile and maple intensity.

  • Grade A Light Amber: This is a light color and the least maple flavored.
  • Grade A Medium Amber: This is midway between dark and light, as the name suggests.
  • Grade A Dark Amber: This is a dark and flavorful syrup.
  • Grade B: This was the best kept secret in maple. It was the darkest of all. Nobody ordered it because–it’s Grade B. Who would buy B when you could buy A? Grade B was the darkest, most maple of them all. I never passed up a bottle of B-grade syrup. This was called “cooking grade syrup.” It’s what all the chefs got. We left the light stuff to the tourists and the people who’d be just as happy with Aunt Jemima.

New Scale:

After deciding the old ratings were too much for the average American to handle, the USDA and International Maple Syrup Institute dumbed it down. There are three categories in the new scale:

  • Grade A Golden: (light)
  • Grade A Amber: (medium)
  • Grade A Dark: (dark)
  • Grade A Very Dark: (formerly known as Grade B–“commercial”or “cooking” grade)
  • A Possible additional category for Canada only: Rumor has it, there’s a double-secret Very Very Dark grade reserved for Canadians, who control 75% of the global trade. 90% of Canadian syrup comes from Quebec. God help the American who smuggles a bottle of Log Cabin over the border.

Buying maple

The best way to buy maple is to do it locally. If this isn’t possible, you can get it shipped to you. It won’t be cheap. So, along those lines, pretend you’re paying a huge bill and buy a lot.

If you buy a weak little mini shotglass of maple, you’ll ration it. You’ll be afraid to use it since it’s liquid gold. I do this–I march right in with my grocery money for the month, I pick up all I can possibly use for the year, and I hand over those twenties.

This time, my gallon was $65, which I think is a bargain. A gallon of moonshine on the Discovery Channel show’s a hundred, and a steak and a beer at decent restaurant would easily top that bill. Fork it over.

The alternative is you can make your own syrup. Our local sugar house has wood-fired boiling and storing tanks. You’d have to tap your maple trees and boil the sap in a hotel pan or kettle over a carefully-controlled fire–for a very long time. It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so plan accordingly.

Once you’ve got your gallon of syrup, the possibilities are endless.

Uses for syrup

  • pancakes crepes, and waffles.
  • smoked bacon and ham
  • Boston Baked Beans
  • sweet potatoes
  • in cakes, breads, pies, and desserts
  • whereever you use sugar
  • frostings
  • pork
  • fish glaze
  • with peaches
  • in whipped cream

Storing syrup

Maple syrup stores forever–but if you open it you should keep it in the fridge. It’s the moisture that can get mold, not the syrup.

Get the large containers and fill your small container if you have storage to keep filling a table container. You’ll always want more. Once you start using farm-run syrup, you won’t be able to eat brown-dyed corn syrup syrup again.

Whether you’re stocking up for the zombie apocalypse or a foodie who doesn’t want to run out, invest in pure maple syrup–then eat it every chance you get.