Maple Syrup: The Herald of Spring In New Hampshire
Once upon a time, I thought maple syrup grades were determined by boiling time when transforming sap into syrup. The darker the syrup, the longer you boiled the sap. I finally realized that if this were true, Grade B would be thick as molasses, but the viscosity is always the same. It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap from a sugar maple to make one gallon of maple syrup, no matter the grade.
Then, I convinced myself that grading, based on syrup color, depended on when the sap was collected. The first collection of the season was the lightest, and the syrup turned darker as the season went on.
Recently, I’ve read that the syrup from a single tree can fluctuate from light to dark and dark to light as the season progresses. It all depends on temperature fluctuations. This is probably true from day to day, but I remain confident that the syrup does indeed become darker later in the season.
In New Hampshire, maple syrup season starts around the middle to end of February, when the daytime temperatures reach the high-thirties to low-forties and the night air still dips down below freezing. The season usually lasts until early April, or when you spot that first green bud on a tree and (falsely) believe that fresh vegetables are right around the corner.
Maple syrup is the amber-colored beacon of hope that gets New Hampshire residents through winter’s last push.
If you find yourself searching around for Grade B syrup this spring to no avail, don’t despair. Grade B has a brand new name! 2015 proved to be an exciting year in New Hampshire; our state (along with Vermont and New York back in 2014) completely changed its maple syrup grading system to better align with the Canadian system. Previously in New Hampshire, there were two grades, A and B, with three sub-categories under Grade A (Light Amber, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber). The new, more descriptive system includes four categories within Grade A:
Grade A (Golden Delicate Taste)
Grade A (Rich Amber Taste)
Grade A (Dark Robust Taste)
Grade A (Very Dark Strong Taste) *Formerly known as Grade B
As of 2016, New Hampshire producers are required to use the new system. The point is to make it easier for consumers to purchase syrup based on how they expect it to taste. Grade A (Golden Delicate Taste) is a far more subtle-tasting syrup than Grade A (Very Dark Strong Taste), which has a nuttier, stronger maple syrup flavor and is great for cooking.
Don’t have a favorite grade? Visit your local sugarhouse during New Hampshire’s 21st annual Maple Sugaring Month, from March 12 through April 2 to sample syrup, candies, and other confections and learn first hand what these new labels really mean.