Maple Syrup: Tapping Sap, We Mean, Both Upstate and in New York City

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Now is the Time to Tap that Tree: Wood Homestead Maple Butter, Maple Cream and Maple Syrup in Grades A and B.

This semi-sunny, 40-degree day has reminded us that late winter sun is not just a torturous tease of how much longer we have to suffer through nothing but squash and snow, but also what gets the maple sap running. And that means the 2010 sugaring season — when the days push the mercury above freezing but the nights keep it below — has officially begun.

Last year about this time we covered some of the sappiest boys in the city — aka the bros. Tony and Andy Van Glad, who have been tapping trees for their Wood Homestead Maple Syrup company up in Stamford, N.Y. for decades. The Van Glads kindly showed us the sustainable ways of commercial sugaring, which, with the exception of some plastic tubing snaking through stands of sugar and black maple trees (their sap’s the sweetest) and a reverse osmosis machine, is still pretty much the same since the Indians opened up the trees with an axe.

The Van Glads still use a few metal pails and still use metal stiles (the name for the spouts you hammer straight into the tree) and still cook down their sap into sugar in their evaporator that is housed, yes, in their sugar shack. The latter sends up sweet steamy puffs this time of year as Grade A and Grade B get bottled to be sent to the Van Glad’s Greenmarket stands. (The brothers also boil the syrup down on an old stove into maple cream and maple candy.)

Back then, we actually wondered aloud whether there was some stand of maples in Fort Tryon Park or a four-tapper (that’s sugaring lingo meaning a big tree that can sustain four stiles) in some Gramercy backyard, both put to use by some city sugarer with a decent exhaust system (or a window) in their kitchen.

Happily, thanks to a post from “urban forager” Ava Chin on the New York Times local blogs, we’ve since learned that there are in fact city tappers with their own little stands of maple. Though instead of stiles, these urban sugarmen and sugarwomen use hollow metal pipes and PVC tubing from the local hardware store. Isn’t that sweet?

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.