The Sugar Season: A Year in the Life of Maple Syrup, and One Family’s Quest for the Sweetest Harvest
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How has one of America's oldest agricultural crafts evolved from a quaint enterprise with "sugar parties" and the delicacy "sugar on snow" to a modern industry?
At a sugarhouse owned by maple syrup entrepreneur Bruce Bascom, 80,000 gallons of sap are processed daily during winter's end. In The Sugar Season, Douglas Whynott follows Bascom through one tumultuous season, taking us deep into the sugarbush, where sunlight and sap are intimately related and the sound of the taps gives the woods a rhythm and a ring. Along the way, he reveals the inner workings of the multimillion-dollar maple sugar industry. Make no mistake, it's big business--complete with a Maple Hall of Fame, a black market, a major syrup heist monitored by Homeland Security, a Canadian organization called The Federation, and a Global Strategic Reserve that's comparable to OPEC (fitting, since a barrel of maple syrup is worth more than a barrel of oil).
Whynott brings us to sugarhouses, were we learn the myriad subtle flavors of syrup and how it's assigned a grade. He examines the unusual biology of the maple tree that makes syrup possible and explores the maples'--and the industry's--chances for survival, highlighting a hot-button issue: how global warming is threatening our food supply. Experts predict that, by the end of this century, maple syrup production in the United States may suffer a drastic decline.
As buckets and wooden spouts give way to vacuum pumps and tubing, we see that even the best technology can't overcome warm nights in the middle of a season--and that only determined men like Bascom can continue to make a sweet like off of rugged land.
His total production then stood at 4018 gallons. Some sugarmakers called this period from February 16 to February 24 “the big run.” Some said they had missed it. But another much bigger run was about to come. Because of the early start of the season, the tapping crew completed their work near the end of the big run. As of February 23 there were 63,865 taps feeding into the Bascom sugarhouse. 9780306822049-text_whynott 12/11/13 8:56 AM Page 56 56 th e sugar seaso n F You could tell that Kevin
was boiling when you arrived at the parking lot and saw the broad column of steam shooting through the sugarhouse roof. That steam was scented with maple, and as soon as I got out of the car and stood in the open air I encountered the sweet smell. I liked this idea of standing in a maple-scented mist at the top of a mountain. Inside the sugarhouse Kevin was at the evaporator. Kevin is slight of build, quiet of voice, but he was running a highpowered, finely tuned machine, with its rows of steam
were making a business of producing maple syrup. When a producer could concentrate maple sap at two percent sugar to eight percent by running it through an R.O., as they call them, he would have to boil only about ten gallons of water rather than forty-three. The syrup that cost the equivalent of four gallons of oil to produce would now only require one gallon of oil, with sap at eight percent sugar. The Bascoms added their first R.O. machine in 1977. Ken Bascom boiled for more than forty years,
has the scent of the sugarhouse,” she said. I bent to take a whiff of the vapors. “You’re right. It’s not just the maple scent, but the sugarhouse itself.” “Yes,” she said. “It has the scent of the wood, the woodpile, doesn’t it?” “Yes.” That was it, the magic of this. Under the right conditions the sweetness of the sap, the taste of the tree, and also the character of the place where it was made. It seemed so, on this particular day. 9780306822049-text_whynott 12/11/13 8:56 AM Page 111 J 10
Bruce Bascom. “He’d buy twenty-five, and then sell one hundred twenty-five,” Bruce said. Bruce began to play a version of the futures game that he learned from Mr. Bureau. He borrowed a million dollars, but contracted for two million dollars worth of syrup, and then he delivered it successfully—for a $200,000 profit. He then thought, why not try for three million? He succeeded again. Bruce ran the numbers up even further until he was selling Springtree $5,000,000 worth of syrup on only a million