HEBRON, Conn. — For a moment, the ceremonial tapping of the season’s first sugar maple by the Governor almost went a little too well.
As soon as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy hammered a metal spout into the tree near Wayne Palmer’s sugarhouse Tuesday afternoon, sap began flowing down the trunk and onto the snow-covered ground.
“Let’s go – let’s go!” the Governor urged as Palmer and Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky came to his aid with a metal collection bucket. “It’s running right out of there.”
“That’s money on the ground,” quipped Palmer, who said he chose the tree because it had reached the standard tapping diameter of 10 inches and had never been tapped.
A recently rare below-freezing overnight and temperatures pushing into the 40s on Tuesday created prime sap-flow conditions for the tapping, held to mark the traditional opening of sugaring season after President’s Day.
The season typically ends in early April, when trees bud and the sap turns bitter, making it unsuitable for syrup.
Malloy said he wanted to call attention to sugaring not only to promote the quality of Connecticut maple syrup, but to encourage residents to visit a working maple operation like Palmer’s Winding Brook Sugarhouse, and to events like the annual Hebron Maple Festival in March.
A fourth-generation sugarer, Palmer’s place was also chosen because he is part of a state pilot program that allows producers to lease maple trees in state forests.
“We want to make this industry bigger,” Malloy said as he stood in front of the sugarhouse and a knot of news media. “Wayne is an example of our effort in the state of Connecticut to extend the collection of maple sap in our forests in a more aggressive way.”
Reviczky said that while interest and participation in sugaring has seen a steady increase, just a small fraction of the state’s maple trees are now in production.
“We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available to us here and we make some of the best maple syrup anywhere in the world, right here in Connecticut,” he said. “I know our producers sell everything they make. So the more access that they have to sugar maples across the state, the more we can grow this sector of Connecticut’s agricultural industry.”
There are nearly 200 producers in the Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut, and countless backyard hobbyists who make syrup for themselves, friends and family. Sales of maple syrup in Connecticut now approach $2 million every year, and Connecticut syrup is a regular winner of national judging contests.
The Department of Agriculture and the maple syrup producers association publish a brochure every year listing Connecticut sugarhouses open to the public, which is available on the department’s website, www.CTGrown.gov, and the association’s website, www.ctmaple.org.
The Department also will be promoting maple syrup during March on radio, social media and other outlets.
“Agritourism is a growing part of our tourism sector,” Tim Sullivan, Deputy Commissioner of the state Dept. of Economic and Community Development, said at the event. “Whether it’s maple sugar or farm wineries or orchards, it attracts a lot of visitors to our state.”
Before tapping the sugar maple, Malloy toured Palmer’s sugarhouse, where the centerpiece is an enormous sap evaporator that he recently converted from wood-burning to oil-fired.
While it used to burn up to a cord of wood a day during heavy production, and take about to 2 ½ hours to heat to the desired 800-degrees, the revamped boiler now gets up to the proper heat level in just 12 minutes.
Sampling some of Palmer’s dark-amber syrup out of a tiny paper cup next to the steaming evaporator, Malloy declared: “Wow – that’s good stuff. That’s great,” before buying a quart to take home.
The governor also asked a series of questions about the production process and the various grades of syrup.
“Early in the year you’ll tend to make lighter syrup because the tree is sweeter – there’s more sugar in it,” explained Palmer, who beside selling syrup from his home also sells to a local restaurant for use in a glazed-salmon dish and to a local shop that uses it to make maple ice cream.
“As the year progresses we’re depleting the sugar in the tree, and because the sugar content drops we spend more time boiling the sap. The longer the syrup spends in the evaporator, the darker it’s going to get.”
Palmer is a fairly large producer who taps about 1,000 trees using traditional metal collection buckets, and has about five miles of plastic tubing stretched across 15 acres of sugarbush in nearby Meshomasic State Forest, which drain into a large central collection tank.
“You know, another five miles of tubing and you could be producing more,” Malloy gently prodded Palmer.
“Give us the land,” Palmer replied with a laugh, “and I’ll buy the tubing.”
–Connecticut Department of Agriculture
For more articles out of New England, click here.