Our back yard is home to three maple trees of varying sizes. Two towering silver maples bump up the ground with their thick, extended roots, while a lone sugar maple spits out “helicopters” and drops large yellow leaves. The trees offer our home and backyard much shade, so I try to overlook the nuisances they produce. In addition to the above varieties of maple trees there are over eleven more maple species native to North America. But it’s three varieties in particular – the sugar maple, black maple, and red maple – that comprise most of the trees tapped for the sweet sap used to produce pure maple syrup. Kentucky might not be the first state that comes to mind when one thinks of maple syrup, but with an abundance of native maple trees, and nights with below-freezing temperature and days with above-freezing temperature, Kentucky produces syrup that rivals any New England, or Vermont-produced, syrup.
The cover article in the February 2012 issue of Kentucky Monthly tells the story of Federal Grove the southernmost maple syrup producer in the United States. Located in Auburn, a small town southwest of Bowling Green, Federal Grove is not only a source of Kentucky-produced maple syrup, but is home to a Maple Syrup Festival, as I discussed in The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook. Federal Grove proudly hosts their annual festival during the last weekend of February, just as the sap for producing pure maple syrup starts to flow. Although, I can’t help wonder this year if the warmer winter we’ve had in KY has affected the maple sap.
Pure maple syrup is an amber-colored sweetener produced from the clear sap of sugar maple and red maple trees, and not to be confused with pancake syrup that is largely made of corn syrup and maple flavoring. During the first hard thaw after a late winter freeze, workers at Federal Grove (or any other syrup producer) drill holes in maple trees to house a spout through which the sap flows and on which a bucket hangs to collect the sap. After collecting gallons and gallons of the clear sap, maple syrup producers evaporate the sap. They boil it down, waiting for the fine line between thick, pancake-worthy syrup and a boiled mess. It takes about 40 gallons of clear maple sap to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup.
Pure maple syrup comes in four grades according to the flavor and color of the syrup. Sometimes the subtle differences correspond to the point in the season where the sap was collected and the syrup produced. Grade A light is the earliest spring sap syrup with a light amber color and has a mild maple flavor. Grade A medium has a more pronounced flavor and is the most popular grade for table syrup. Grade B dark, sometimes called grade-A dark amber, is darker in color and more robust in flavor than other Grade A syrups because it is made later in the season. Grade B, made at the end of the season is the strongest and darkest syrup and is great for cooking and baking. Pure maple syrup contains no preservatives and is best stored in the refrigerator. What’s not to like about pure maple syrup that’s warmed just before serving so it melts the butter and keeps the pancakes, waffles, or French toast piping hot.
Federal Grove 3rd Annual Maple Syrup Festival
February 24-25, 2012
Pancake Breakfast – served 8am-8:30pm (all you can eat!)
Kentucky Proud and Craft Vendors Tent – 9am-4pm
Sugarhouse Tours – 9am-4pm
Federal Grove Restaurant
Lunch menu served 11am-2pm
Dinner menu served 5pm-8:30pm