Maple Syrup is the first taste of spring in Appalachia

By Candace Nelson - 3:00 PM

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Here's my latest column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

The sugar maple stands tall as West Virginia’s official state tree.

It could be because of the brilliant red and gold colors the five-lobed leaves turn in the fall. Or it could be because of the cool shade the towering tree provides during the blistering summer months. Or, more likely, it’s because of the sap harvested during the spring to produce maple syrup.

The maple season in West Virginia runs for about two months — but it’s all dependent on the weather. Ideal maple syrup conditions call for warm days and freezing nights. That’s because the below-freezing temperatures help pull sap from out of the roots of the trees. And then the warmer days help the sap flow through the tubing lines that are connected to multiple trees and collect into one large tank.

Gone are the days of hanging buckets under spouts to harvest sap that is then carried down to a sugar shack. The practice has become much more streamlined thanks to technological advances, and with that has come a return of the art of harvesting.

Appalachians are well-known for being self-reliant and making good use of the land, as is the case with ramps, morels and maple syrup. Harvested from maple trees, the syrup was used as a sweetener throughout the year. But the practice waned as sugar and other syrups became readily available at the supermarket.

The practice, though, is a piece of Appalachian history and a foundation for many of the foods we continue to enjoy today. The sweet tradition will live on through our history — and tastebuds.

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