Maple: A Staple from Tree to Table

| October/November 2006

Maple-Infused Recipes: 

• Maple Roasted Plums
• Maple and Pecan Crusted Chicken
• Maple Onion Marmalade 

Like all good things, maple syrup comes with patience, time and honest work. It begins with a few hesitant drops of translucent sap that gather and shimmer on the end of the spout. Then, when the earth hovers at just the right angle and conditions are perfect, the steady plink, plink, plink of that precious liquid culminates in an ancient ritual.

The Source of the Sap

Of the roughly 115 species of maple trees (Acer spp.) scattered over the Northern Hemisphere, 13 are native to North America. Nine thrive in northeastern regions, two in the Rockies, and two on the Pacific coast. All maples produce sweet sap, but the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), also known as hard maple or rock maple, yields by far the best sap. Silver maple (A. saccharinum), black maple (A. saccharum) and red maple (A. rubrum) trees follow closely in sweet sap production.

Maple trees are deciduous, with beautiful red/orange and yellow leaves in the autumn. Sugar maples can live up to 400 years, and most reach their top height of 80 to 90 feet at about 150 years, though some grow as tall as 130 feet. It takes about 40 years for a tree to grow big enough to support a tap—a 10-inch girth is considered the minimum size for one tap.

The species requires moist, rich, well-drained soil for best development. Flowers appear at the same time as, or shortly after, the leaves begin to unfold. The fruit consists of samaras, or terminally winged seeds, often called keys, joined together at their seedpods.

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