How has one of America's oldest agricultural crafts evolved from a quaint enterprise with "sugar parties" and the delicacy "sugar on snow" to a modern industry? Read more...
How has one of America's oldest agricultural crafts evolved from a quaint enterprise with "sugar parties" and the delicacy "sugar on snow" to a modern industry?
At a sugarhouse owned by maple syrup entrepreneur Bruce Bascom, 80,000 gallons of sap are processed daily during winter's end. In The Sugar Season, Douglas Whynott follows Bascom through one tumultuous season, taking us deep into the sugarbush, where sunlight and sap are intimately related and the sound of the taps gives the woods a rhythm and a ring. Along the way, he reveals the inner workings of the multimillion-dollar maple sugar industry. Make no mistake, it's big business--complete with a Maple Hall of Fame, a black market, a major syrup heist monitored by Homeland Security, a Canadian organization called The Federation, and a Global Strategic Reserve that's comparable to OPEC (fitting, since a barrel of maple syrup is worth more than a barrel of oil).
Whynott brings us to sugarhouses, were we learn the myriad subtle flavors of syrup and how it's assigned a grade. He examines the unusual biology of the maple tree that makes syrup possible and explores the maples'--and the industry's--chances for survival, highlighting a hot-button issue: how global warming is threatening our food supply. Experts predict that, by the end of this century, maple syrup production in the United States may suffer a drastic decline.
As buckets and wooden spouts give way to vacuum pumps and tubing, we see that even the best technology can't overcome warm nights in the middle of a season--and that only determined men like Bascom can continue to make a sweet like off of rugged land.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-02-24
- Reviewer: Staff
This inside look at the ups and downs of the maple syrup industry over its year-long harvesting and production cycle will be fascinating to anyone interested in the modern food industry, the effect of global warming on agriculture, and just how that sweet syrup got from a stand of sugar maples to the breakfast table. Whynott (Following the Bloom) follows the work and life of Bruce Bascom, whose Bascom Farms produced 23,900 gallons of maple syrup in 2010, "more than a fourth of the maple crop for the state of New Hampshire." But the main part of the book is a look at how that syrup is produced, which requires Bascom to harvest almost 70,000 gallons of sap a day, boil and refine it into a range of flavors, and sell it to buyers nationwide. Whynott introduces the reader to "The Federation," an OPEC-style organization that was formed to monitor and police production and price activity in what is now a multimillion-dollar industry. The last quarter of the book is both enlightening and alarming, as Whynott details how the slowly rising temperatures are affecting the industry, as milder winters bring earlier maple sap flows and forcing business to tap their trees "about a month earlier than they used to." As one long-time maple harvester says, sugar maple trees "are just like humans, in that sap is like blood. They are very sensitive, and that's why they are in danger from climate change." (Mar.)