Winter & Jude Mead • Canaan Valley, CT 06018
jude@meadsmaplesyrup.com • 860-824-0829

"I don't know how I could live without Mead's Maple Syrup! I know that sounds silly but I use it in all my baking and l for some savoury dishes. AND it is frequently requested as a Christmas gift, house gift and birthday present by my family-even my son's girlfriends ask for it now! it's the best!"

— Eileen, CT

 

“I have been enjoying Mead’s Maple Syrup for many, many years.  It consistently tastes great.” 

— David, Colorado

 

"Mead’s Maple Syrup has been our family's favorite for over 25 years and is now being enjoyed by our grandchildren.  It has also become a holiday gift tradition for national and international friends for years."

— Marie, CT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Making Maple Syrup

Winter Mead is regarded as a master syrup maker. Mead’s Maple Syrup, too, is recognized throughout the country as one of the most respected, energetic, and innovative maple productions delighting maple syrup lovers around the world. The original silk-screened artwork seen on his containers represents the Mead Farm Sugaring House and is a tribute to his family who helped him establish his successful enterprise. Mead set a high standard of quality for his syrup when he first started and has maintained that same standard thirty years later. Mead’s Maple Syrup is a product to be proud of. It is nature’s most natural and finest sweetener.

 

A Sappy Story

It was early spring when my husband first courted me over twenty  five years ago—the time when maple trees were still dormant and the temperature fluctuated from below freezing at night to a comfortable 50 degrees during the day. It was that time when the last few inches of snow that covered the fields melted away and the pussy willow sprouted, and a time when the sap flowed and thoughts drifted to the sweet taste of maple syrup. It was perfect weather for our first date and definitely the season for blossoming love. But I had no idea on that particular evening that not only would I be so enchanted by the sweetness of this man, but also enthralled by the curious present he brought me.

He appeared at my front door with a glass bottle filled with a thick, dark-colored substance and proudly announced that he held in his hand nature's own pure maple syrup—the oldest natural food product produced in North America. Of course, he credited the Native Americans for this discovery and continued to say with great enthusiasm that the jar was his first attempt at making this flavorful natural sweetener.

As a novice producer, his supplies were limited, so he packaged the product in an old  glass Tropicana bottle. I inspected my gift and remember the syrup being as black as the evening sky. Despite its color, the taste was full and flavorful. I delighted in this new taste, being mostly a consumer of the imitation syrup that came in bottles fashioned like older women.The uniqueness of the gift and of the giver sparked my interest, and I wanted to know more about them both. How was this delicious nectar produced and what started the producer?

The following day I visited my suitor's humble cabin. Maple trees lined his backyard and in the middle of this sugar bush, as if holding court, sat an old beat-up pan that balanced precariously on top of an incinerator barrel. A piece of narrow rubber tubing dangled over the edge of the pan and draped itself inside a used Bess Eaten container that once held strawberry jelly. Metal spouts had been drilled into the trunks of the maples and I heard the plunk, plunk, plunk of sap as it dripped ever so gently against the inside of banged-up buckets that encircled the trees.

A large ceramic pail stored the incoming sap. Stacked logs rested neatly against a decaying oak trunk and a gas-powered chainsaw waited in position for the next round of cutting. Oddly, in the middle of all this sat an old cane chair with half the wicker eaten away, and a three-legged table with a copy of The Backyard Sugarer resting on top. Protecting this Walden scene was a gray duct-taped blue tarp, secured only by thin rope and fresh saplings.

Excited, I wanted to pitch right in and help convert the raw sap to syrup. This required the removal of water. I learned it took about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup and, using the setup we had, the process could take hours. With only a few taps in the trees, I spent most of my time waiting for the buckets to fill. That left me with plenty of extra hours to read the manual.

Finally, we had enough sap to start the fire. I raced about gathering buckets. They brimmed with sap and I carefully emptied them into the pan, fully aware of each precious drop. I watched the first bubble appear and then the watery substance took off into a full-raged boil. As the level went down, we kept adding more sap. My beau rigged a thermometer inside the pan and carefully kept watch on the temperature.

Knowing the boiling point of water was 212, it was fairly easy to calculate syrup because it is seven degrees above that point. We waited for the thermometer to hit 219 degrees. I watched and he chopped. Both of us stoked the fire and collected the sap. Over two hours passed before I caught a whiff of the maple syrup magic.

As fragrant sugar-coated molecules released themselves through the air, I became more and more entranced by the smell. My head bent forward, taking the steam straight on. I just could not inhale enough of the sweet aroma. There was no turning back. I was hooked. I believed there should have been some type of warning label issued for the beginner, such as "Beware: Sugaring may be addictive."

Things were beginning to get serious, both in the maple syrup operation and our relationship. With the marriage date set, I knew it was time to get down to the plans. The time had come to use a commercial-sized production. If we were going to do it right, we needed to pull up the tarp and build a more stable sugarhouse. Scrounging up old lumber, we constructed the mini shed. Its simple architectural design consisted of a slanted roof, gravel floor and three walls. At least the open end faced south, but it was still cold and the only warmth was standing near the stove. That, however, could be dangerous—and the intense heat destroyed two of my warm wooly coats.

We continued to expand, and the following year bought wedding rings and a brand new evaporator and an electric filter press. This lightened the workload and now, with more time on our hands, we could tap more trees. Only this time we invested in some modern tubing rather than buckets.

This system tied together colorful lines that zigzagged throughout the sugar grove, sending the sap into collection pans. We bought a used pump to pump the sap up to another barrel in the back of our old red pickup. This saved our backs as well as hours of lifting buckets and dumping them separately.

Feeling quite proud of our growing business, we began attending all the sugaring conferences and visiting other sugarmakers. We quickly learned how little we knew. But, fortunately for us, the producers of maple syrup are friendly folk and enjoyed sharing information and advice. While the books we had read came in handy, experience knows no substitute. We learned valuable tips from the professionals.

The years passed, and as our family grew so did the maple syrup operation. The sugarhouse seemed too small and we needed a more efficient building. A big decision was made and we designed a new structure with cement floors, electricity (no more running those extension cords) and big sliding garage-size doors. We equipped it with a storage tank, a reverse osmosis machine to filter out water from the sap, a stove, full counter space, a table for the filter press, a rocking chair, and the evaporator. But when we placed the evaporator inside, how tiny it looked—we needed a bigger one that would help cut down boiling time while producing twice the amount of syrup.

More trees needed to be tapped and the old hand drill would not do. We knew that would take far too long. A power drill was needed for this colossal job. Also more line, better spouts, collection containers, and better bottling equipment. We were prepared to do it right. By the time we finished, we found ourselves packaging nearly 1,000 gallons of syrup and becoming one of the larger producers in the state.

Throughout the years everything changed and modernized to keep up with production. Today the equipment and processing is far more sophisticated than we ever imagined, and only a few gray buckets hanging from the trees are a reminder of the past. When I look at them, I sometimes miss those simpler days of tattered tarps and well-worn evaporators. But one thing that will always linger is the thrill of syrup season and the enduring passion we have for each other and for producing this liquid gold.

Mead's Maple Syrup Practices Pure Stewardship