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March 14, 2013 By adminEveryone’s favorite Canadian astronaut/YouTube sensation is back to explain how food tastes in space. The answer: different! Sort of. As soon as you enter orbit, your Read More »
March 14, 2013 By adminExpecting better season than last year The sap at sugar bush farms in New Brunswick is flowing ahead of schedule, which has maple syrup producers expecting Read More »
March 14, 2013 By adminHADLEY, Mass. (Mass Appeal) – No plate of pancakes…or waffles… is complete without a helping of syrup. But how is this sticky goodness made? Well we Read More »
February 01, 2013 By admin“Natural maple flavor,” caffeine, butter flavoring, and invert sugar are just four of the ingredients that make up the unholiest of breakfast condiments, Wired Wyatt’s Caffeinated Syrup, Read More »
August 06, 2012 By adminWhat do glaciers, maple syrup and lobsters have in common? They’re all symptoms of global warming — the worldwide process of climate change that has become Read More »
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Somerset County Maple Producers’ Association celebrated another successful maple season this past year during its annual meeting and banquet June 29 at Berlin Community Building with more than 100 attending.
The banquet is held every year after the producers’ harvest season and long after they have put away their equipment and filled their containers.
Everett Sechler, the president of the organization, welcomed the members and guests and conducted the business meeting. Matthew and Stephanie Emerick, Ed Emerick and his girlfriend, Diane Dunmeyer, all representing Emerick’s Pure Maple Products in Southampton Township, which was awarded the 2012 Maple King Award by John Wendel from Somerset Rotary Club, sponsor of the award. Maple king is a contest of maple products held the Friday prior to the Pennsylvania Maple Festival every spring. This year’s contest for maple king had more than 50 camps represented.
Both Matt and his father, Ed, work fulltime for the railroad out of Cumberland, Md., and they produce maple syrup in February and March as a hobby. Both have been maple king in the past.
Joel Friedline, representing Walnutdale Maple Farms, received this year’s Champion Syrup Award, sponsored by PNC Bank. Joel and Mary Friedline own and operate the camp along with Joel’s parents, Carna and Lowell Friedline. Joel’s brother, Jonathan, operates a dairy on the same farm, and Joel helps on the dairy farm as well as operates the camp. It’s truly a family activity at Walnutdale with aunt and uncle, Lynette and Dick Ely, also helping out.
Lynette Ely serves as secretary for the association and read the minutes from last year’s annual meeting. Kyle Hillegas, treasurer, gave the treasurer’s report. During this year, income came from Mountain Craft Days, container orders, membership dues, farm show and fair booth premiums and miscellaneous income in the amount of $53,845.
Expenses went out to advertising, the June banquet, business miscellaneous, Mountain Craft Days, container orders, state membership dues, mileage, postage, state meeting mileage, memorials, festival, postage, tax exempt status and miscellaneous in the amount of $58,057.
With a beginning balance of $14,701, the organization had an ending balance of $10,489 after expenses.
Also during the evening, Mary Friedline, activity director for the association, gave the activities report and reported that this year’s maple king contest was a banner year with many camps represented.
She explained that it had been a busy year, starting with such activities as Somerset County Fair in August and shortly afterwards, Mountain Craft Days in September, and then the Pa. Farm Show in Harrisburg in January, where Somerset County members received good scores.
Melissa Friend, president of the Maple Festival Association, explained that she admires both aspects of the complimentary team of maple producers on one hand and festival board members on the other.
“Both sides work so hard to enhance the maple industry,” said Friend. “There are several producers who volunteer at the festival and we appreciated everyone’s help.”
Miguel Saviroff, Extension agent at Penn State Cooperative Extension in Somerset, congratulated the producers for a good year and encouraged them as a viable county entity.
Queen Maple Hannah Taylor of Boswell said learning about maple production has been a rewarding experience and that she has had a very busy year so far attending various events, like National Day of Prayer, Berlin Block Party and Grantsville Days. She thanked her mother, Gretchen Brant, for being her biggest supporter.
State Rep. Carl Metzgar was unable to attend because he is working in Harrisburg, but Marcia Atkinson attended in his place and presented the producers with a Pa. State House of Representatives resolution.
The directors are Lynette Ely, Gus Kern, Matt Emerick, Kyle Hillegas, Ron Brenneman, Everett Sechler, Mary Friedline, Gary Blocher and Mike Lynch coming on board for the first time.
A musical group called ‘Prayzer’ presented the entertainment for the evening and several door prizes were handed out amid a severe summer thunder storm.
While most people think of corn and soybean crops as those most affected by this year’s weather, the maple syrup crop also took a huge hit.
T&K Farms in Cadiz, Kentucky, is one of the few farms in the state to even produce maple syrup. Tim Wagoner and his family have been tapping trees for five years and have been a growing business until this year.
Between the warm winter and the dry spring, sap stopped flowing and without sap, there’s no syrup.
“We ended up with 37 gallons for the entire year and we had almost 300 more trees that we tapped this year than we had the previous year,”said Wagoner. “The previous year, we made right at 100 gallons.”
There are 826 trees tapped on the T&K Farms, connected by more than three miles of tubes. From the last week in December until the last week in February, sap is supposed to slide through them into huge tubs.
Wagoner said usually, it takes around 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. This year, that number was off, too.
“This year for us and I don’t know if it’s because of the drought or the lack of temperatures, we averaged about 49 gallons of sap for one gallon of syrup. I basically had enough syrup to meet all of my pre-orders and we kept about five gallons for ourselves,” he said.
Although the farm took a hit on syrup sales this year, the Wagoner’s aren’t giving up on the crop. They said luckily, they’ve been able to save each year just in case they had a tough season. Next year, they”d like to tap even more trees.
Gov. Scott Walker last week requested two federal disaster declarations for Wisconsin, in a bid to help farmers cope with losses resulting from extreme weather this year.
“Agriculture is the backbone of Wisconsin’s economy and many farmers are hurting as a result of unseasonable weather over the last year,” Walker said. “The hot conditions in March followed by a cold, wet April damaged many crops including Door County cherries and northern Wisconsin’s maple syrup harvest.”
The governor asked the USDA for a disaster declaration for the entire state for anticipated losses in the fruit sector, including apples and cherries. Official estimates suggest that total losses for the state could be in the region of 80%.
At the same time, however, the Wisconsin Cherry Growers Association stated that, even though this year’s cherry crop is lower than would be expected ordinarily, they are available for purchase.
“We originally anticipated a crop of 500,000 pounds out of a potential 12 million pounds,” said the statement from Terry Sorenson, president of the Wisconsin Cherry Growers, Inc. “That number now looks to exceed 700,000 pounds. This allows for plenty of cherries for the local farm markets.”
Sweet cherries are already on the market and the harvest of tart cherries is expected to begin this week, which is three weeks earlier than usual.
On April 19, the federal and provincial governments invested almost $700,000 to help four maple sugar producers expand and improve their competitiveness.
The funding will help maple syrup producers Guy Levesque Inc., Érablymax Inc., Érablière Laplante et Fils Inc. and Érablière du Nord-Ouest Inc.
At Érablière Guy Levesque Inc., the project will help expand the establishment by acquiring more efficient maple syrup processing equipment and adding 7,000 taps to existing operations.
Producer Érablymax Inc. will replace 15,000 taps, while Érablière Laplante et Fils Inc. will install 23,000 new taps.
The project at Érablière du Nord-Ouest Inc. involves the conversion of two oil-burning evaporators to a wood pellet system.
The federal government, through ACOA’s Business Development Program, will contribute $530,350 toward the four projects while the province will invest $149,200. The four maple syrup producers will invest a total of $367,510.
No news that the weather is pretty strange lately and that includes in the Hudson Valley, where we’re amassing broken records at a record-breaking pace: the hottest March, the hottest first quarter, and most recently, the hottest April 15th, when it was 91. Another all-timer (at least at our house) is the annual magnolia trashing, this year the earliest by a country mile.
The pattern itself is always the same: 1) multi-week warm spell, 2) magnolia blooms, 3) seasonally-appropriate frost comes, 4) flowers turn brown. But it used to happen between late April and early May. Then the whole sequence moved back to April.
In 2012, all March. Bloom started around the 10th and was thoroughly whacked when the temperature dropped to 25 degrees on the night of the 26th.
Meanwhile, the combo of February and March was the 3rd driest on record and April is not shaping up well.
I could go on, among other things airing the usual caveat that this is weather, not climate. But I’d rather cut to this not-climate’s effect on the maple syrup industry, as described in the crop reports written by Arnold Coombs, a seventh generation maple syrup producer and packer in Vermont.
Full disclosure: The 2012 crop report abbreviated below was originally sent to me by the farm’s publicist, who thought it might provide a story about the connections between maple syrup and climate change.
Indeed it does. Especially when combined with Mr. Coomb’s reports from 2009 (best crop in the last 75 years) and 2010 (production dramatically below average).
Up, down, up, down, way hot, way not, dust-bowl dry and then hundred-year flooded, the globe is on a violent weather see-saw that is not well described by “warming,” a word that usually evokes something pleasant. “Climate change” is a little better, but not by much. Change isn’t always pleasant, but it’s beneficial at least as often as it is harmful, which cannot be said about the see-saw.
The search for a term that is both scientifically defensible and sufficiently horrifying is ongoing. Meanwhile, here’s an on-the-ground look at the shape of things to come, and following that, links to a few recipes. Maple syrup shortages and price hikes are probably inevitable, but they’re not likely to be crippling, especially given that our local, sustainable sweetener is not only delicious but also, for what it is, inexpensive.
2012 Preliminary Crop Report
By Arnold Coombs (edited and condensed by me)
Following a huge crop like 2011, the 2012 crop had a tough act to follow. The winter weather was most unusual with temperatures well above average. In southern VT and NH we had only two significant snow storms with the biggest being in October.
Because of the warmth and the lack of snow, getting around in the woods was much easier. Most sugar makers were ready to start producing early, but then in the week of March 19th, temperatures hit the 70s for four days in a row and ended our season prematurely.
This year, half of last year’s record amount seems to be normal, which translates into about 70% of an average crop for some, less for others. We estimate the final US production at 18,000,000 lbs. compared to over 30,000,000 lbs. last year. Canadian production looks to be similar. What does that mean for prices? They will be going up. How much? That is still to be determined…
The farmers’ union in Quebec increased the base of syrup price 3% and with other costs rising (what isn’t going up?) we see a minimum increase of 5%…. pricing usually settles down by Late May or early June.
Due to the warmer weather, this year’s crop is running darker than usual, (last year the crop was 30% Grade A Light Amber and this year it is 5%) but the flavor is still quite good and we have plenty.
Personally, I’m delighted. As long it isn’t “buddy” (off-flavored because the tree has started to leaf out) I like the darker grade B better anyway.
Many residents of Bradford County rejoiced this year with the early exchange of parkas for shorts and tank tops. Warm, dry weather has pervaded the county for much of 2012. Precipitation has been the exception, not the rule – a stark contrast from last year, one of the wettest in recent history.
However, the lack of rain has caused its share of problems as well. The area’s dryness has made brush fires easier to start and spread, and some soils have dried up as planting season nears for area farmers.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Bradford County is just inside the section of northeastern Pennsylvania considered to be “abnormally dry.” While the designation stops short of putting the county into drought territory, an abnormally dry area is more prone to brush fires and dry soils.
Bradford County has seen short-term drought indicators in the past few months because of the lack of precipitation in late winter and spring, said meteorologist Jim Brewster of the National Weather Service. Because there was no leftover snow pack from winter, soils lost much-needed moisture that normally would have been provided by the spring thaw, he said.
Towanda weather watcher Wayne Vanderpool said he has measured about eight inches of precipitation between January and mid-April, about two and a half inches less than the average of 10.5 inches.
By contrast, last April was one of the wetter ones in recent memory, with 20 days of measurable precipitation, according to Vanderpool’s records. Last April, Vanderpool measured 10.4 inches of precipitation – more in one month than the county has seen so far in all of 2012.
While this year has been dry, Vanderpool stopped short of labeling this an abnormal spring just yet. Just the top few inches of soil have dried, and water tables appear to be minimally affected so far.
“We can make it up in one big storm,” he said.
The dry conditions have helped contribute to the spread of brush fires. The NWS has issued several “red flag warnings” for the area in the past month, indicating a higher risk of brush fire than normal.
Brewster said the red flag warnings are issued based on conditions including minimum relative humidity, amount of rain, wind speed and moisture content of grasses, sticks and smaller trees. Under fire weather conditions, any fires that develop will be capable of rapid spread and growth, according to the NWS.
The lack of rain keeps dead underbrush dry, and high winds help fires to spread, making outdoor burning dangerous at times. “The fire concern is the main worry right now,” Vanderpool said.
The weather has allowed area farmers to get a head start on the growing season, said Tony Liguori of the Bradford County Conservation District. The effect even extended to maple syrup producers, who were able to start early with decent results.
“It wasn’t the best of years,” Liguori said of the recent maple syrup yield, “but it wasn’t the worst, either.”
However, Liguori said that with freezing low temperatures forecast for the coming nights, certain plants – fruits, particularly – are at risk of damage.
Because there was no hard freeze this winter, there will also be more insects in the area this summer, he said.
One area farmer said she may have to use creative ways to keep her crops watered if the weather continues to be hot and dry. Sheila Russell, manager of Russell Sprouts Farm in Rome, said the dry weather is “a little disheartening, after all the rain we had last year.”
Russell said a planned irrigation system to water crops from a pond on the farm’s property has been expedited in anticipation of a possible dry spell. The few crops that have been planted so far this growing season are being watered by hand, something that won’t be feasible once the entire crop is planted.
Since the farm adheres to organic principles, Russell said the crew will be relying on mulch, leaves and newspaper in the fields to hold in moisture and keep the soil cool. The technique “will make our watering efforts go further,” she said.
According to the NWS, this week’s forecast shows a slight chance of showers Thursday night, with the probability of rain ramping up to 50 percent by Saturday.
As for the rest of spring, Brewster said the area may still receive a long, soaking rain before the drier summer months hit, which would ease drought and fire threats. A solid rainfall could bring rain totals back to average levels for the year, he said.
The NWS’s seasonal outlook shows that the county will likely stay out of drought status through at least June, but “it’s definitely something that we have to watch,” Brewster said.
Prudent Living, an Upper Valley company offering services, strategies, products and a community that encourage a prudent way of life, including alternative energy solutions, is installing a large solar power system for Hidden Springs Maple Syrup’s new headquarters in Putney, VT. Hidden Springs is a family-owned and operated producer of pure maple syrup, selling on-line across the US. The new photovoltaic system will generate electricity and offset electric utility costs. The new PV system uses seventy-two 235-watt solar modules; the 17-kilowatt system generates enough energy to completely power three average homes. The new post-and-beam Hidden Springs headquarters is heated and cooled primarily by geo-thermal energy.
According to Prudent Living Vice-President Tim Biebel, the photovoltaic system is projected to save as much as 70 to 80% on electricity costs, depending upon usage. “This is a fantastic project,” Biebel stated. “What’s cool is Hidden Springs is making a product from nature– syrup–and now they will be doing that with clean energy from the sun. So, they will be using the sun for both their product and their process. Plus, it’s smart business. They’ve set themselves up for levelized energy costs: every year for the next 25 years they’ll know what their electricity costs will be. They are immune to electricity cost increases, thanks to this new PV system. We enjoyed working with a good environmental steward like Hidden Springs and are excited about the leadership they are showing.”
Renewable energy made so much sense to Hidden Springs that they decided to use an alternative energy solution to power their alternative energy solution. “We believe in renewable energy,” said Hidden Springs Manager Sarah Weck. “Our geo-thermal system powers the building, providing most of the heat in both the store and the attached house. But, the geo-thermal system requires a lot of electricity which costs a lot of money. So, we decided to put solar panels on our huge, southern-facing roof and use free solar energy to power our geo-thermal system. We’re very happy with our decision. Prudent Living has a lot of experience and did a great job explaining the process and installing the system. We look forward to generating so much free electricity with our new solar panel system that we’ll be able to offset energy costs at our other locations.”
Prudent Living is an Upper Valley company offering services, strategies, products and a community that encourage a prudent way of life. Started in 2009 by Biebel Builders, quality home and commercial builders in Windsor, Vermont since 1976, Prudent Living provides customers with energy-efficient architectural design; green strategies for homebuilding and renovation; energy audits; and renewable alternatives such as solar, wind and geothermal. More than just builders of houses, Prudent Living helps people build an intentional life –whether it’s by carefully managing natural resources, spending more wisely by investing in a home energy audit and energy efficient upgrades, or by safeguarding the health of the planet and contributing positively to the environment. The Prudent Living community relies on the dynamic web site, informative blogs and free quarterly Prudent Living e-Magazine for practical suggestions for daily life. The company will soon launch Prudent Living Market, an e-commerce site of prudent products.
Maple syrup farmers not the only food producers facing climate change
could mainline maple syrup. Ever since I was a kid, I loved it so much I would hone in on it like a wasp at a barbecue if there was even a whiff of r-e-a-l maple syrup within a 50-km radius.
Albertans back then had a unique way of drawing out the adjective “real” that they invariably paired up with “maple syrup” like they were conjoined twins. The emphasis not only heightened the distance from those phony maple-flavoured imitators with ersatz flavouring in a fructose-corn syrup concoction, it also connoted values like rare, expensive — something proudly Canadian to be treasured and measured out of the tiny jug bottles that were carefully brought out from secret hiding places in the cupboard or fridge (the jury was still out on where it should be kept).
The “real” also proved you knew better.
Today, Luc Bergeron’s Canada No. 3 dark (foncé) organic maple syrup transforms my porridge, my pancakes, and my sinfully fatty organic yogurt. Gorgeous maple sugar transforms my equally sinful vanilla ice cream, along with a handle of toasted walnuts, organic, again, and straight from the orchards in Summerland. These are simple but heavenly treats for a woman who hates to spend time making desserts — treats only afforded by the luxury of real maple syrup.
So my graying eyebrows arched even higher the other day when I read that maple syrup producers in Quebec, who are responsible for three-quarters of the world’s supply, are akimbo this spring over what some are calling disastrous; catastrophic; the worst maple syrup season in memory.
“Not since the 1940s has there been a year with such a strange transition in weather patterns from winter to spring. And this radical swing from cold to hot in a matter of days has played havoc with maple syrup production,” says a report in the Haliburton Highlander, which circulates in central Ontario not far from Quebec, smack in the heart of Ontario’s maple sugar country.
The Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association predicts a multimillion-dollar loss for producers due to output that’s down at least 50 per cent in parts of the province. Quebec’s association of producers says it’s too early yet to tell how their producers will be hit financially.
But everyone from industry spokespeople to the farmers who turn on the syrup taps on the trees lays the problem squarely at the feet of climate change. And they expect to see even more impacts in the future as maple tree ecosystems are stressed with drought, heat waves and other extremes.
In fact, eastern maple syrup producers, including those in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, are worried that if a cold snap follows the recent heat wave, which caused the sap to flow too early, trees could be irrevocably damaged.
This kind of extreme weather back east — where hot days are making people turn up in shorts and Hawaiian shirts at maple syrup tastings where they used to huddle in parkas while the boiled syrup was poured over fresh snow — is occurring all over the world.
Canadians are famous for giggling that they love climate change. Previously known as global warming (warming temperatures around the world are only one aspect of climate change), I remember Canadians laughing and saying, global warming — bring it on, with visions of, yes, tropical shirts and shorts dancing in their heads.
Now many have stopped laughing as they witness the gravity of the situation — including how finely tuned, carefully balanced ecosystems are at stake, with our food supply systems at the top of the list.
The World Meteorological Organization released its annual report for 2011 a few weeks ago, and although world temperatures last year did not reach the record-setting highs of 2010, last year was the 11th warmest year on record since 1880, and the warmest year during which a major La Niña event occurred in the Pacific. And we West Coasters know that La Niña, especially a big one like last year’s, always has a cooling effect.
More to the point, the WMO report calls 2011 a year of “climate extremes”.
You don’t have to tell that to the maple syrup producers. Nor to our farmers in Pemberton, impatient to get their seed in the ground as they wrestle with unseasonably cool, wet weather. Or to the wheat farmers in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan who, looking out over their tinder-dry bare fields that saw wildfires in January, are recalling the dust bowl of the “Dirty Thirties”.
One of the most terrible “extremes” last year saw flooding in many parts of the world, especially Southeast Asia where one-third of Thailand was under water at one point. More than 20,000 sq km of agricultural land was damaged and millions of people impacted in that country’s worst flooding ever.
Last spring, the U.S. saw 173 tornadoes in 24 hours — a new record according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And, like Thailand, the Mississippi River valley also saw extreme flooding on some of the most fertile farmland in America.
On top of extremes like these, more general changes in climate have experts around the world scrambling.
Scientists are warning corn farmers in the American Midwest that changing climatic patterns that will bring more rain could decrease crop production by up to 30 per cent. In the Middle East and Eurasia, they’re witnessing the alarming spread of an unusually virulent variety of wheat rust out of Africa. Yes, horticulturalists can breed rust-resistant wheat, but on average it takes 12 years to do so. The rust’s life cycle is months.
While food security is just one issue hooked into our changing climate, it’s one that is so universal and palpable it makes me hopeful that policy makers and my fellow citizens alike might finally find the courage to face climate change — action scientists have been urging us to take for decades.
In eastern Canada, in one hopeful example, an innovative professor is using the maple syrup dilemma to develop an educational package for teachers to share with their classes about climate change.
In the meantime, as for storing that treasured maple syrup properly, you really should keep it in the fridge or even the freezer, no matter what Albertans do.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who sees the climate changing all around her.
As we march through April the effects of warm winter weather and record temperatures in March have left a bitter taste in the mouths of maple syrup producers.
Cold nights and warm days are needed to produce this sweet surprise, but record warmth in March stopped the flow of sap as maple trees quickly went into bud.
In fact many in the industry are saying this is the worst maple syrup season they have ever seen. The Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association says producers will have a multi-million-dollar loss due to output that’s down at least 50% in parts of the province.
The good news is most feel this season shortage of sap will not significantly impact on the price as previous maple syrup seasons have produced ample supply. More good news is research from the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Rhode Island found a total of 54 antioxidants in maple syrup, five of which were new compounds with several of them reported to have anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-bacterial properties.
With this great news we must remind ourselves that maple syrup is sugar-laden, making blueberries or other antioxidant-rich fruits better choices for healthy eating.
But — there’s no denying maple syrup is one of the best natural sweeteners. On top of pancakes or used as a glaze on foods like pork, chicken, duck, salmon or trout, maple syrup brings practically anything from drab to fab in moments.
On root vegetables maple syrup helps enhance their natural sugars and in sauces and dressings the sweet taste of spring is easily added.
On twitter @shalsroy claims the best way to enjoy maple syrup is through a combination of buttermilk and green onion placed on top of a salad of fresh Ontario hydroponic Boston lettuce.
In salads, mains, desserts — maple syrup’s the way to go!
Frank Ferragine is the weather and gardening specialist for Breakfast Television Toronto on Citytv, and appears regularly on CityLine. His first book, Frankie Flowers Get Growing (HarperCollins) is now available. Follow Frank on twitter @frankferragine or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SWEET POTATO, MAPLE AND PECAN TARTS
These are somewhere between a butter tart and pumpkin pie but with a hint of maple syrup and toasted pecans — mmm good! Recipe courtesy of Foodland Ontario. (Foodland.gov.on.ca.)
1 medium sweet potato, about 12 oz (375 g)
2 Tbsp. (30 ml) butter, melted
1 cup (250 ml) maple syrup
1/2 tsp. (2 ml) vanilla
24 3-inch (8 cm) frozen tart shells, thawed
1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped toasted pecans
Scrub sweet potato and trim off ends. Pierce with small knife in several places; microwave at High for 6 to 8 minutes or until tender, turning over halfway through. Let cool enough to handle; remove skin and mash with fork until smooth. Measure 1 cup (250 ml) and place in bowl. Whisk in butter, eggs, maple syrup, vanilla and salt until smooth.
Bake tart shells on baking sheet, in batches if necessary, in 375F (190C) oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle pecans among partially baked shells, gently pushing down any puffed-up pastry. Divide sweet potato mixture among shells. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes or until filling is slightly puffed, almost set and pastry is lightly golden. Let cool on rack.
TIP: Make filling in 4-cup (1 L) glass measuring cup and it will be easy to pour into tart shells.
Yield: Makes 24 tarts.
A heated discussion erupted in the House Agriculture Committee yesterday as it took testimony on S.93 that would change the way Vermont sugar makers classify maple syrup.
Several Vermont maple producers are angry that they were not involved in any of the plans to bring the state more in line with the International Maple Syrup Institute’s grading system, (IMSI). Letter grades – Grade A Fancy, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber and Grade B — are used on containers of maple syrup made in Vermont. If the bill passes, they would be replaced by the IMSI grades of Golden, Amber, Dark and Very Dark.
“Why? My question is why,” Ed Merrow, a Vermont maple producer, said loudly and angrily to himself early on in the hearing.
Merrow, who has a 3,000-tap sugarbush in Danby, told the committee that the first he had heard talk of changing grading standards was in fall 2010, but he didn’t hear of a decision until he read the minutes of the annual meeting of theVermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association (VMSA) in January.
“I again asked if we had a chance to vote on grade changes. We didn’t. I was told by Bill Clark [president of VMSA] that the changes had been made and that’s that,” he said.
Jacques Couture, chair the VMSA board of directors, said his organization has the support of its members.
“[We] voted to instruct the maple industry committee to begin this process in January,” Couture said. “Members voted in support of this. We didn’t go to every member to straw poll vote; I don’t think that was ever considered.”
Couture, who has 7,500 taps on his farm in Westfield, said he spends a lot of time explaining the current grading system to customers, and likes the more self-explanatory labels.
“Not that I mind describing the grades to people, [but] the fact that there’s a flavor descriptor along with a classification is a very positive thing,” he said. “Would you ever go in a store and buy Grade B meat? So why would you go in and buy Grade B syrup?”
Murrow however, isn’t against one half of the bill – a voluntary certification program to ensure health and safety standards, that will allow producers to charge a higher premium for their maple syrup.
What it seemed producers like Merrow and other opponents of the new grading system don’t like is that standardizing the grading system will detract from the Vermont brand. Customers might think that Golden Amber from Vermont is the same as Golden Amber from Quebec or New Hampshire, whereas to producers, they are distinct.
“The current Vermont grades are part of the Vermont agricultural brand,” said Ken Bushee, a maple producer in Danby and the former director of the VMSA. “They speak of higher quality expected by the public because of higher than average quality produced by Vermont.”
Vermont maple syrup is a quarter of a degree heavier in density than other varieties, Bushee noted. .
“It’s hard to be involved in a discussion if the discussion takes place before you know about it,” Bushee said. “IMSI wants this change, but it actually isn’t in the best interest of the producers of this state [to] be lowering of our high standards to meet the rest.”
However, Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Windsor, observed that that a standardized grading system is necessary as Vermont produces more maple syrup.
“We heard testimony a few years ago that Vermont had one million taps now have three million. [That’s] something can’t market all within the state. It’s hard to exist in an export market without a standardized labelling system,” he said.
Bill Clark, the president of the VMSA, also thinks the new labeling system will help producer market outside of the state.
“In this day and age, in a global economy, in a global market, there are some [producers] selling more internationally than we do. If consumers travel other places, and they have a common understanding – it’s a lot easier for them to know what they’re getting,” Clark said.
“This is something that really needs to go forward — it’s a marketing tool. It will be of advantage to producers in Vermont,” he said.
But Bushee and Merrow ship out of state and say the Vermont grading system hasn’t detracted from their sales. Bushee says his customers have come to understand the state’s current grading system.
“I’ve educated people in the state for 30 years and they know what I sell,” Bushee told the committee, adding later, “I advertise with sign besides the road in the fall. People stop and buy from me; they take my card and reorder. It’s taken me 30 years to build my business, and people finally know what medium amber is.”