C Preface

I grew up in Albany, New York, and like most kids was only ever given Aunt Jemima or other fake syrup for my pancakes. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I got my first taste of real maple syrup while eating brunch at a friend’s house. Unfortunately my first introduction to pure maple was not a good one. I remember that the syrup was thin and runny with a bit of an off-flavor. I politely finished my pancakes but went back to using the fake stuff for the time being. Several years later I wound up in graduate school studying forestry at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. During a class field trip to the Heiberg Forest, we attended a pancake breakfast with pure maple syrup produced from the university’s sugarbush. This syrup tasted nothing like my previous experience—it was thick, flavorful, and unbelievably delicious. I couldn’t believe what I had been missing out on and decided then that I wanted to try making my own syrup. The following spring I tapped about a dozen trees at my parents’ property in Lake George, New York. I had no idea what I was doing, and it certainly showed! My father helped me set up a collection system where most of the sap flowed into a black contractor bag nestled within a 30-gallon trash can (I do not recommend this!). I came home on weekends to boil the sap, and the entire family got involved in the process. After burning two of my mother’s best pots, my brother and I were prohibited from entering the kitchen with sap, so we tried boiling it on an outdoor fireplace. Because we had no way to keep the ashes from getting into the boiling pot, to say the syrup took on a smoky flavor would certainly be an understatement! Unfortunately none of the syrup we produced was fit for human consumption. However, the one bright spot was that we discovered how delicious maple sap is, both fresh from the tree and boiled down partially. We gave up on trying to make syrup and instead just used all of the sap for drinking. We continued to tap a few trees each year to serve as a natural spring tonic, which we called Adirondack Sweetwater. In 2004 I was working as a forester for Cornell and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation when the position became available to manage The Uihlein Forest—Cornell University’s Sugar Maple Research & Extension Field Station in Lake Placid, New York. Although my interest in maple had grown tremendously, I still had very little experience and did not expect to get the position. I applied anyway. During my interview, I remember telling the search committee that if they hired me, they would be making an investment for the future. I didn’t know much about syrup production at the time, and my previous experiments were mostly a disaster. However, I was young, enthusiastic, had a solid background in forestry and economics, and promised to work extremely hard to learn about this new field. I must have made a convincing enough argument, because they hired me as director in January 2005. I have now spent the past decade fully immersed in the maple industry. Being able to run a 5,000-tap sugaring operation while working on applied research and extension projects has given me a wide and unique perspective on syrup production. I’ve also spent the past

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The Sugarmaker’s Companion
five years pursuing my PhD at Cornell, allowing me to study the history, structure, and future growth potential of the maple industry. My thesis focused on the biologic, economic, cultural, and public policy factors that have impacted the North American maple industry to date and that will play a key role in future development. Much of this book stems from my experiences over the past decade working for Cornell and conducting the research for my doctorate. I did my undergraduate work in economics at Hamilton College and had previously been destined for a career on Wall Street. After completing a couple of internships with Merrill Lynch, I soon realized that I had no interest in working for the financial sector. However, I do find basic economic theory interesting and relevant, since the main focus is on how to achieve the greatest benefit from scarce resources. Some of our resources are renewable and must be managed properly to ensure a sustainable supply for the future. Others are finite and must be conserved and allocated equitably over time. Our trees and forests are certainly a renewable resource and can provide us with many benefits for generations to come, but only if managed properly. One of the main reasons I wanted to write this book was to help others properly manage and utilize their forest resources, in particular the maple, birch, and walnut trees. I am continually amazed at the delicious and nutritious sap that these trees are able to produce every spring. My hope is that this book will allow you to start producing syrup yourself or help you expand upon your existing operation. Sugaring is truly an amazing process and provides us with some of the best food and beverages we could ask for. It’s a shame that more people don’t get the opportunity to produce and consume the sap and syrup of these incredible trees. I have written this book more as a guide than a specific how-to manual on syrup production. Although this book is useful for hobbyists, you may want to pick up a more concise guide if your goal is simply to tap a few trees and boil the sap down on the kitchen stove or in your backyard. I have written this with the commercial producer in mind for two reasons. First, most people who start out on a small scale get hooked and wind up expanding into a larger operation. Furthermore, I think just about every tree should be tapped, so naturally I recommend developing as large an operation as you can support. My goal is to inspire you into action, providing information on many topics related to sustainable sap and syrup production from a variety of species. I couldn’t cover everything there is to know about all topics, but I have tried to include the most pertinent and useful information that is difficult or impossible to find elsewhere. No person or book has all the answers, but I hope you find this reading useful and that it provides greater impetus and ideas to grow your sugaring operation. While the book is mostly focused on maple syrup production, nearly all the information presented can also be applied to tapping birch and walnut trees. The default setting is to discuss maple syrup production, but nearly all the same concepts can be easily transferred to birch or walnut sugaring. Where differences exist within and between these species, I have highlighted the main issues that you should consider. My duties with Cornell are focused on research and extension for the maple industry. I help many people get started in or expand their sugaring operations, and I plan to stay in this position until retirement—which is a long way away! If you have any questions or need further advice as you develop your operations, feel free to contact me at mlf36@cornell. edu, or visit the Cornell Maple Program website at www.cornellmaple.com.

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