This past weekend, on a sunny and clear spring day, Holly Sheehan and Steve Niles decided to take their sons, Caleb, Liam, and Daniel, to Snell Family Farm’s Sugaring Sunday for Daniel’s second birthday. Holly’s parents came too. It was an inspired idea: “I was looking for a multi-generational activity,” says Sheehan, to “satisfy both my children and my parents and that seemed like a good one.”
You see, maple syrup is the sweet, sweet blood of New England. Grown from maple trees (the sweetest being the Acer saccharum), it is believed that the Iroquois Indians had the genius to tap the suckers. After the clear, just-barely-sweet liquid is boiled down into syrup (40-to1 ratio, sap to syrup), it was used both as a delicious treat and a form of currency. Liquid gold.
The sugaring season lasts about six weeks each year and depends upon the lovely yin and yang of spring. Because this season is transitional, we experience warmer days (40 degrees F on average) but still have colder nights (around 20F). The nocturnal freezing causes the roots of the maples to pull in more moisture from the earth and the warmth of the day pushes the sap up the trunk. When the bark is wounded with a gash, the sap comes dripping out, offering up to 40 gallons per tree, per season. Or at least that’s how it’s been until lately — it seems that climate change is interfering with the annual sugaring; we’ve had unseasonably warm days, interspersed with immovable frigid spells. The maples are confused.
But so, it seems, are we. In the last few years, our culture has embarked upon a full-blown carbophobia, vilifying every food that contains any type of sugar. But in our hysteria, we have definitely thrown out a few babies with the bath water. Yes, maple syrup is a sugar — in fact, of its 67 percent solid matter, 89 percent is sucrose. However, when you get all scientific about it, brown rice breaks down into a form sugar in your mouth. So do green beans, and cauliflower, and most other foods! Carbohydrates are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen — the very stuff of life — so we depend on sugar for our cells to function correctly.
But as any foodie knows, we need to distinguish between complex carbohydrates and simple ones. Complex carbs contain chains of multiple sugar molecules which require the body (optimally through chewing) to break them down. This slows the absorption process and eases the ride. Simple carbs, on the other hand, have chains of just one or two molecules, so they are absorbed much more quickly into the bloodstream, causing a roller-coaster ride of sugar, followed by a rush of insulin, followed by a rush of anti-insulin. Read: bad mood, obesity, and mineral depletion. So, understandably, in the carbophobe’s mind, complex is good, simple bad.