Stress-cooking and panic shopping. Regrowth and vegetable crafts. Now we can add another hobby to a year of midlife trends: garden maple candy.
Among the many indicators that it is on the rise: a run on home evaporators and other syrup making accessories. An increase in traffic and subscriptions to maple syrup manufacturing websites and trade publications. And, of course, a lot of social media documentation. (The Backyard Maple Syrup Makers Facebook group has added some 5,000 members, nearly doubling the number of people in its community, over the past year.)
Tapping maple trees and boiling the sap into syrup – known as sugar – isn’t a new hobby. What’s unique this year is the influx of suburban and urban suburban adventurers who are fueling these maple sugar highs.
Claire and Thomas Gallagher, for example, patted a tree behind their home in New Rochelle, New York, for the first time three weeks ago.
“It’s such a fun thing to do with kids, it gets us going out, it’s educational,” said Ms. Gallagher, 37. And with everyone at home all winter and possibly spring as well, the Gallaghers have decided there will never be a better year to try it out. The only problem is that the sap is leaking so much that Mr. Gallagher has to continue shopping at Home Depot to buy additional orange buckets to contain it.
Because sugar is a sticky business – and boiling sap inside can mean resin all over the walls – many garden enthusiasts are turning to small evaporators, like the ones sold by Vermont Evaporator. Company in Montpelier, Vermont. of customers have doubled in the past year.
“When we started our business five years ago, our customers were like us: rural landowners with five to ten acres of land,” said Kate Whelley McCabe, Managing Director. “Now we are selling to people across the country and to a growing number of suburban and urban customers.”
Ms Whelley McCabe said this year’s request was “insane”. Vermont Evaporator Company sold its evaporators and seedling grills at the end of January; sugar pans in mid-March; and buckets, maple syrup starter kits, filter kits and a number of other accessories by the end of March.
“For exactly one month, about 200 people have signed up on a waiting list to purchase a product from our only Sapling line,” said Ms. Whelley McCabe. “That’s more units than we’ve ever built in a year.”
Peter Gregg, founder of The Maple News and maple candy classifieds, The Maple Trader, is not surprised that sugar supplies have run out. He saw his print subscription increase by more than 14 percent, he said, and his website traffic by 50 percent this year – a rare occurrence for a maple-themed newspaper.
“Vermont’s biggest sweeteners started out in their backyards,” said Gregg. “Sweetening is great because you can start doing it in your kitchen, but you get the virus and you keep growing and growing, adding more and more faucets, buying more and more equipment and trying to become bigger and more efficient.
Mr. Gregg’s own sugar exploits began this way in 1997, and he now has over 1,000 taps. “Making a purely natural product feels good,” he says.
Maple candy can be tricky, but there are many resources for hobbyists. The University of Vermont Maple Extension program offers many resources and information for the public, including a podcast on maple. The University of New Hampshire has a hotline for questions about maple sugar.
The college also provides tips for beginners, including tree identification, tapping guidelines, collecting sap, handling sap, sizing the evaporator or pan, and boiling sap. (Traditionally, a faucet produces about a gallon of sap per day, then 40 gallons of sap reduces to a gallon of syrup.)
Although maple trees grow in most states, the northeastern states compete in an unofficial competition for the spiritual house of maple syrup.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, then, may be an unofficial job requirement to be a dedicated candy. Her 8 year old son Leo is her shaft tapping assistant, and her two teenagers, Edie and Calvin, “do the heavy lifting.”
Governor Sununu said that when the sap from the trees begins to flow, it is the official signal that spring has arrived. “It has been a long winter and a long year. The sun is rising, the days are getting warmer, and when the sap flowed this year, we knew we were really coming out of winter with a lot of optimism, ”he said in an interview.
He sends every other governor a pint of maple syrup every year – “except, maybe Phil Scott,” he laughs at his syrup nemesis, the governor of Vermont, who also happens to be the first. Maple producing state in the United States.
Another dedicated sweetener is Jim Himes, a congressman from Connecticut. “You know you’re a good friend when you get some of our syrup,” he said, adding that his family films about a gallon of the final amber product each year. Representative Himes described the hobby as a “savior move”.
For those who may have missed this season, which will end by the end of April, Mr. Gregg said, “People are turning to maple around Christmas.” He advises novices not to be ashamed to pick up basic supplies like buckets, turkey fryers, and flat pans this time of year.
But know, he says, there’s a good chance you’ll catch the maple bug – and you won’t be able to stop there.