WEATHER: In a general sense, the pattern continues of Freeze, Thaw, Freeze, Thaw – in chunks of a few days each rather than in chunks of hours (freeze-by-night, thaw-by-day). Last night’s freeze was the last in the forecast.
HOW’S IT RUNNING? The run of 3/30-3/31 was by far the best of the season. The current run which began this morning is an all-too-familiar pilgrim run.
SAP SWEETNESS: 1.5 during the good run and dropping since then.
BOILING STATUS: Tomorrow, 4/5, will be Day 17.
NITER NEWS: The sugar sand that builds up in the troughs of the front pan has taken on a dark auburn hue, a bit redder than the dark syrup we’ve been making lately. I don’t recall seeing so much of it in dark syrup before this year.
Chief of Operations writes:
That Damn Bloody Taste
It was still March in the middle of a too-warm spell, and we were lamenting what the last several days of daytime temperatures near 70 followed by nightly lows in the 50’s had done to the sap quality. Walt, who is a newbie to sugaring, asked me if the syrup had gotten bloody. Sometimes I’m at a loss understanding the lingo of my youthful helpers so I asked Christian what he meant by bloody. Christian was as mystified as I was so Walt asked again, “Is the syrup tasting bloody yet?” Posted on the filter box, I have a long list of the many flavors maple syrup can acquire, but bloody isn’t one of them and I had never heard it described that way by anyone. Christian finally resolved the confusion by asking Walt, “Oh, do you mean buddy?”
As sugar season progresses the cooling snow melts away, and eventually the ground temperature becomes warm enough to trigger bud development. This may slowly happen over a couple of weeks or it may take only a couple of days depending on how extreme the warming temperatures become. The problem for sugarmakers is that developing buds impart a chocolaty flavor to the syrup often described as “tootsie roll.” In the early stages of bud development this flavor isn’t very objectionable and some people actually prefer it. However, in the later stages it can take on a bitter accent. The USDA ranks the buddy taste as an off-flavor and deems buddy syrup “damaged” and therefore unfit for sales. The syrup made from birch trees also has a bitter accent, though with birch this strong earthy flavor is considered an asset. Chefs use it to add pizzazz to their dishes.
The buddy off-flavor is often masked in dark syrup, but unfortunately is usually pronounced in lighter grades. The queen taster of our operation is skilled at picking up the early-season bud flavor before the rest of us, and she is usually at least a day ahead of me. First it goes down as pre-pre-bud, and then pre-bud. Unfortunately, any syrup made after the full-on bud finally arrives is no longer saleable and it’s time to shut down even though the sap may be running well and the syrup is considered to be of high quality by some who taste it. Exactly when the buddy flavor is strong enough to make the syrup unsaleable is a gray area.
This problem has been exacerbated by tubing which keeps the taps fresher than the old-style buckets did. This makes it possible to produce lighter grades of syrup later, going into bud season. I’m thinking it’s bloody well time the sugaring industry finds a market for buddy syrup.