Episode Guide: Maple Syrup in Vermont Img

One of the oldest food traditions in America is tapping trees for sap and boiling it down for the prized natural sweetener, maple syrup. Vermont has long been a mecca for the practice. It’s no longer just for pancakes, and Vermonters are innovating with maple syrup in incredibly fun and delicious ways.

Indigenous Origins of Maple Syrup & How It’s Made

The origin of maple syrup isn’t known for sure, but it was being tapped and consumed by indigenous populations long before the arrival of European colonists — and there are even native legends about its origins. 

Maple sugar has deep roots in American history, predating European settlement. Native American legends tell of Chief Woksis of the Iroquois discovering syrup when his tomahawk released sap from a maple tree. Native Americans also found “sapsicles” in winter, revealing the tree’s sweet sap. By 1609, documented processes show Native Americans making maple sugar by boiling sap collected from tree cuts. They created grain sugar, cake sugar, and wax sugar, which were easier to store and used for trade and gifts.

Early settlers adopted and refined these methods, using spiles and iron kettles. By 1790, they enhanced efficiency and constructed sugar houses. The importation of cane sugar in 1890 reduced the demand for maple sugar, but innovations like the maple sugar evaporator shifted production to maple syrup. Today, the rich legacy of maple sugar endures, celebrated in the syrup bottles lining grocery store shelves.

Carrying on the indigenous legacy of maple syrup production is the Pion family, Roger and Donna Pion, and Donna’s sister Lucy Neel. Lucy is part of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, headquartered at Barton, Vt., and her family has been producing maple syrup for generations. 

Lucy explains how the sap is harvested, how long the Abenaki people have been doing it, how they taught the skill to early European colonists, and how it was passed down generation to generation in their family. When the days become warm but the nights are still freezing, the sap is ready to come out of the taps placed in the trees. This modern process is developed from the pre-contact native production methods of tapping trees with spiles and boiling the sap down to form a syrup. Tap season occurs during late winter and spring, for about 4 to 8 weeks. 

Roger Pion, Lucy’s brother, manages the whole process from pulling the sap out of the trees to the boiling process of making maple syrup, which he does over a wood fire, enhancing the flavor. Roger talks about the magic of building community around the magical sap of Vermont’s forests, one yummy sip of syrup at a time. 

Innovation in Culinary Maple Syrup Use

On Vermont’s rugged Mt. Mansfield, 71,000 taps connect to the Runamok Maple sugarhouse, revolutionizing the maple syrup industry. Eric and Laura Sorkin, former Washington, D.C. professionals, embraced sugaring a decade ago, starting with 28,000 taps. Their operation, now equipped with high-tech gadgets, produces artisanal syrups like cardamom-infused and pecan wood-smoked varieties.

The Vermont maple syrup industry has boomed, with modern technology and significant investments transforming traditional practices. Despite challenges, the Sorkins continue to innovate by barrel aging their syrups in bourbon, rum, and brandy barrels, and infusing syrups with other ingredients like lime leaf and elderberry. 

Laura guides Capri through tasting a flight of different-flavored syrups, and shows her how to cook and make cocktails with maple syrup, for some very delicious Vermont concoctions. Pudding Chomeur, literally translated “dessert of the unemployed,” is a traditional and simple recipe from Quebec. 

Pudding Chomeur

  • ¾ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅔ cup softened butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter 8 ramekins.
  2. Maple Caramel: Boil maple syrup and cream, then remove from heat.
  3. Dough: Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time. Blend in flour, baking powder, and salt. Chill for 10 minutes.
  4. Pour enough maple caramel into each ramekin to cover the bottom. Fill two-thirds of each ramekin with dough. Cover with remaining maple caramel.
  5. Place ramekins on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until fully cooked. Serve warm with whipped cream and extra maple caramel.

Barrel-aged Maple Old Fashioned

  • 1 ½ oz WhistlePig PiggyBack 100% Rye
  • ¼ oz Runamok WhistlePig Barrel Aged Maple Syrup
  • 3 Dashes Aromatic or Orange Maple Bitters
  • Fresh Orange Peel for Garnish

Add all ingredients to an Old Fashioned glass.

Add ice. Stir until Maple Syrup is properly diluted.

Garnish with a fresh orange peel.

A Vermont Tradition: The Maple Creemee

Vermont is famous for both maple syrup and its dairy industry, so combining the two is a natural and brilliant pairing, given their award-winning status and national acclaim. That double delight is encapsulated perfectly in the maple creemee, a quintessential Vermont treat that blends creamy, rich dairy with the sweet, distinctive flavor of maple syrup for an unforgettable taste experience.

Charlie Menard, the owner of Canteen Creemee Company in Waitsfield, Vt., has revolutionized the maple creemee experience. Formerly an executive chef, Charlie brought his culinary expertise to the snack bar world, and his creative approach has earned the Canteen Creemee Company accolades and a loyal following. Since opening in 2016, Charlie has continued to innovate, combining high-end snack bar food with local Vermont ingredients to delight both locals and visitors alike, creating unique and decadent treats like “The Bad Larry,” a maple (times seven!) creemee topped with maple cookie crumbs, maple drizzle, and maple cotton candy — “maple madness, wreaking havoc everywhere,” according to Charlie. It might be the most Vermont frozen treat imaginable. 

Historic Canadian Tart Au Sucre & The Vermont Pie Shed

The history of incorporating maple syrup and sugar into baking is rich in Vermont as well as French Canada. Representative of maple’s importance to the history of the area, is the Tarte au Sucre. 

Tarte au Sucre embodies the Quebec spirit, blending down-to-earth North American charm with rich French traditions. Initially made with maple syrup, this pie showcases the importance of maple sugar in early Canadian cuisine. Despite modern adaptations using brown sugar, the original maple version remains popular, reflecting the cultural heritage and resourcefulness of Québec’s early inhabitants. 

DonnaSue Shaw runs a pie shop with her family, and she is the heart behind its mission, located in Grande-Île, an island in the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada. The former chicken and goose shed is now stocked with cookies, brownies, granola bars, and a variety of pies — to the delight of her community. DonnaSue’s creations, like the Multiberry pie and Chocolate Dream pie, keep locals and visitors coming back for more. Capri learns how to make a historic Tart Au Sucre with DonnaSue, who shares her traditional recipe. 

These stories of culinary heritage and innovation, from the resilient traditions of maple sugar in Québec to the delectable creations of Vermont’s maple creemees and pies, beautifully illustrate the sweetness of community, where flavors blend and traditions thrive through shared love and connection.

Tart Au Sucre

  • 1 batch pie crust pastry
  • 1 ½ cups pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup whipping cream (35%)
  • 2 tsp all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  1. Roll out dough and place in a 9-inch pie plate; chill.
  2. Preheat oven to 325ºF.
  3. In a saucepan over medium heat, boil maple syrup gently for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat; stir in butter until melted.
  5. Stir in cream.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk flour and salt into ½ cup of the mixture; return to saucepan.
  7. Whisk until slightly cool.
  8. Beat eggs and whisk into mixture.
  9. Pour filling into pie shell and bake for 45 minutes until center is golden brown and firm.

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