A maple sugar shack, says Massachusetts-based photographer Michael Piazza, smells divine, a perfect blend of delicate syrup and burning firewood. When he first visited Ben’s Sugar Shack, a Temple, New Hampshire business run by passionate twenty-something Ben Fisk, on assignment from Yankee Magazine, he toured the farm for the entire day, learning the ins and outs of New England maple syrup production.
Collecting sap to make maple sugar and syrup, reports the photographer, can be tricky, confined to a small period of time at the close of winter and on the precipice of early spring, when the temperatures descend below freezing at night and rise above during daylight hours. A tree, detecting increasing and dropping temperatures, will accordingly produce the sap needed to nourish its newly budding leaves. As soon as the leaves bloom and photosynthesis begins, the sap is no longer palatable. For this reason, climate change and increasing temperatures pose a serious threat to New England’s maple syrup industry.
During his visit, Piazza got a glimpse at the old fashioned mode sap gathering, wherein metal spouts are hammered beneath the tree bark, funneling the liquid into a bucket. From there, the buckets are moved into the sugar shack itself, where the sap is boiled and the water contained within evaporated by a wood-fired mechanism, leaving only the syrup. One of the reasons for the delicacy’s high cost, reports Piazza, is that a mere 10-20% of the sap remains once it is evaporated.
When asked how the syrup tasted, Piazza says it was just as he imagined, only better. Looking back, he’s not sure if his pleasure was a result merely of the authentic syrup or if his picturesque surroundings enhanced the experience. “It may be like that incredible bottle of wine you have with lunch, looking over the bay of Naples – it doesn’t taste quite the same when you drink it back home,” concludes Piazza.
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