“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
Welcome to the sugar farm in Autumn!
Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote about the splendor of October in Anne of Green Gables. We think our sugar dog, Archie, may be experiencing his own Anne Shirley moment! Archie came to Couching Lion Maple Sugar Farm in April, as a stray from Texas . He took a few months to get used to a life where food readily appears, beds are soft and humans dote on you all day long. Now it is fall and he is absolutely loving the crisp air and swirling leaves. Our walks in the sugarbush have taken on a more wild gait. I still walk but now Archie runs in circles.
I don’t know if he appreciates the colorful beauty, but I sure do. The sugar maples are brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow. The weather in Vermont in September and October is also a thing of beauty. We experience lots of high pressure days with clear air and bright blue skies. While I am back in the classroom teaching math and literacy, I still try to get outside as much as possible to enjoy all the changes happening in the woods. Read on for more news from the sugar farm, as well as recipes and seasonal information!
Firewood galore! One gallon of maple syrup is produced by evaporating the water out of 40 gallons of maple sap. Large sugar farms often use fuel oil to create the necessary heat for this evaporation. However, for a richer, more caramelized and more nuanced flavor, wood fired syrup is the only way to go. All of the firewood used to make Couching Lion Maple is harvested right on our property, either as blow downs or through a carefully managed forestry plan. To maintain our Bird Friendly Maple designation, we need to leave a certain amount of standing dead trees and woody debris. Therefore, the trees that are removed are usually shading trails and inhibiting ground cover growth, or they are from another part of the property that needs thinning for the best forest health. Matt has just finished splitting 12 cords of wood for the sugarhouse and 4 cords to heat our house. Now, on to other projects!
Besides being incredibly delicious and naturally organic, the known health benefits of maple syrup and maple sugar continue to expand. There are many beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Polyphenols are one type of antioxidant found in high concentration in maple syrup. New studies examine the ways in which polyphenols in maple syrup can stabilize blood sugar and how it can lower glucose and insulin responses better than refined sugar and corn syrup. Using maple sugar rather than white sugar or corn syrup lowers the chance of developing chronic conditions like diabetes because of the way maple sugar positively affects your metabolism. Other exciting research is around a compound found in maple syrup called quebecol. Numerous studies show this compound in maple syrup extracts has antioxidant and antimutagenic properties including the ability to inhibit human cancer cell growth. This ground breaking information opens the door for this compound to serve as a potential cancer prevention drug. For more information about these studies and many others, check out the remarkable research being done at the University of Rhode Island regarding the health benefits of maple syrup.
Speaking of Rhode Island…I did my first virtual sugarbush tour for a group of young Rhode Islanders! They were actually very young, ages 3-5. A good friend from college is their teacher and she was looking for content to keep them engaged during the distance learning days. Archie and I walked around the sugarbush for quite awhile, working out a theme to capture the attention of these youngsters. The completed 10 minute video explores different kinds of trees, the remains of a 100 year old evaporator in the sugarbush, and lots and lots of video of Archie chasing leaves. Our debut was a hit and we made a plan for winter and spring follow ups! Stay tuned Rhode Island!
In the Burlington School District we’re making a great effort to teach about and recognize the contributions of indigenous people in North America. The Abenaki have inhabited Vermont for 12,000 years while white people have lived here for about 400 years. In honor of Indigenous People’s Day, I shared this story with my students:
The Legend of Maple Syrup
Long ago, the Creator made and gave many gifts to man to help him during his life. The Creator made the lives of the Abenaki People very good, with plenty of food to gather, grow, and hunt. The Maple tree at that time was one of these very wonderful and special gifts from the Creator. The sap was as thick and sweet as honey. All you had to do was to break the end off of a branch and the syrup would flow out.
In these days Gluskabe would go from native village to village to keep an eye on the People for the Creator. One day Gluskabe came to an abandoned village. The village was in disrepair, the fields were over-grown, and the fires had gone cold. He wondered what had happened to the People. He looked around and around, until he heard a strange sound. As he went towards the sound he could tell that it was the sound of many people moaning. The moaning did not sound like people in pain but more like the sound of contentment. As he got closer he saw a large stand of beautiful maple trees. As he got closer still he saw that all the people were lying on their backs under the trees with the end of a branch broken off and dripping maple syrup into their mouths. The maple syrup had fattened them up so much and made them so lazy that they could barely move.
Gluskabe told them to get up and go back to their village to re-kindle the fires and to repair the village. But the people did not listen. They told him that they were content to lie there and to enjoy the maple syrup. When Gluskabe reported this to the Creator, it was decided that it was again time that man needed another lesson to understand the Creator’s ways. The Creator instructed Gluskabe to fill the maple trees with water. So Gluskabe made a large bucket from birch bark and went to the river to get water. He added water, and added more water until the sap was that like water. Some say he added a measure of water for each day between moons, or nearly 40 times what it was as thick syrup.
After a while the People began to get up because the sap was no longer so thick and sweet. They asked Gluskabe “where has our sweet drink gone?” He told them that this is the way it will be from now on. Gluskabe told them that if they wanted the syrup again that they would have to work hard to get it. The sap would flow sweet only once a year before the new year of spring. The People were shown that making syrup would take much work. Birch bark buckets would need to be made to collect the sap. Wood would be needed to be gathered to make fires to heat rocks, and the rocks would be needed to be put into the sap to boil the water out to make the thick sweet syrup that they once were so fond of. He also told them that they could get the sap for only a short time each year so that they would remember the error of their ways. And so it is still to this day, each spring the Abenaki people remember Gluskabe’s lesson in honoring Creator’s gifts and work hard to gather the maple syrup they love so much.
Thank you to the Abenaki people for the discovery of the sweetness within maple trees. While the story above is just a legend, it is true that several thousand years ago, maple sap was collected in birch bark buckets and then boiled by adding hot rocks. While making maple syrup still takes considerable effort, this is good perspective for the modern day sugar maker!
Maple Sugar Chocolate Brownies
- 6 oz unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped into small pieces
- 2/3 cupunsalted butter
- 1 cup granulated maple sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 8 inch square oven-proof dish and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper, about 2 inches of overhang on each side.
- Put the flour and salt if using in a small bowl and mix.Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat until it is halfway melted. Take it from the heat and stir until it is all melted. The butter shouldn’t be hot but warm. Add the roughly chopped chocolate into the butter and stir with a spatula. It may take 20-30 seconds until all the chocolate melts. Set aside.
- Place the maple sugar and eggs into a large bowl and stir until it is just combined for almost a minute. Don’t over mix so the brownies will be fudgy instead of cakey. Mix in the vanilla.
- Pour the butter-chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture and mix until combined, do not overmix.
- Add the flour and gently stir with a spatula until just totally combined.
- Place the batter into the dish and bake for 35 minutes or until the toothpick has wet crumbs when inserted. When there are some crinkles on top, and the top of the brownies set, it is a sign that it is almost done. The middle of the brownie may look puffy after baked but it will come back to normal as it cools. Check your oven after 30 minutes as baking time may change from oven to oven.
- Let it cool in the pan at least 1 hour but preferably longer to cut neat slices.
Cinnamon Maple Sugar
This is so easy to make and can be sprinkled on anything! Mix 1/2 cup of Couching Lion Maple Sugar with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon. Sprinkle on buttered toast, oatmeal, baked squash, popcorn or anything else that needs a little boost.
Enjoy the rest of beautiful October. Here are some pictures from our neck of the woods.
The leaves are falling and there are lots of other seasonal changes. Read the Vermont Center for Ecostudies Field Guide to October to learn more.
The Couching Lion from a distance on a misty morning.
The little kiosk is stocked up! Friends enjoy stopping by for syrup and then hiking on the trails around our property.
Have a great fall! Aren’t you glad we live in a world of Octobers?
As always, thank you for your support, encouragement, humor and interest in the maple sugar world. We are infinitely grateful to all of you who show up in our lives in different ways. Happy October!
XO Chaska and Matt