Making Maple Syrup With The Perennial Plate

We're big fans and supporters of Daniel Klein's The Perennial Plate, a weekly video series focused on connecting people with good food and its producers. Daniel's quest to experience a full year of good, local food in Minnesota has already had him killing and carving up his own Thanksgving turkey and visiting a Minnesota greenhouse in the heart of winter. This week's video features Daniel's new tree-tapping friend Chris Ransom, working his maple syrup magic:

The Perennial Plate Episode 5: Maple Syrup from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.

Here's Daniel's own description of the current episode:

Tapping maple trees isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Minnesota food culture, at least not in the same way it does with Canada or Vermont. Still, it's an incredible practice that's done every spring in backyards and forests across the state.

I had always thought of making maple syrup as a winter activity (probably because of the snowy log cabin picture on the syrup bottle). Although I want to eat syrup most in the winter, making it is actually a ritual/craft/art/job that happens for a only finite number of days each spring.

I wonder how maple syrup was discovered; who was the first person to boil the water of a tree for several days, and why? In the good old days (hundreds of years ago), Native Americans would fill a hollowed tree trunk with sap and boil it by continuously adding heated rocks to the liquid. But what sparked the first attempt?

Today, the process - despite its streamlined reduction - still takes 6-10 hours. I'm not one to be dissuaded by long cooking times, so I wanted to experience it for myself. Besides getting to do a little hands-on tapping, I had the good fortune to be able to drink the ever-so-slightly-sweet sap straight from the tree and to smell the caramel fumes as the tree stock reduced.

I filmed this episode of The Perennial Plate with Chris Ransom, who lives in Vadnais Heights and mostly taps his neighbors trees. Making maple syrup is almost a full-time hobby for Chris, and although he barely breaks even, he's happy to spend many late nights in front of the stove each year for the cause ("it's great for people who like to watch water boil, he says").

As simple as the process may be, the product is anything but. There is nothing like real maple syrup.