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Winter on the Farm: Leelanau Peninsula Maple Sugar Bush

Bailey Samp, Find Local Food, Specialty Producers

“You can’t make syrup just anywhere. It requires all the seasons to prompt the trees to give their sweet nectar! The long nights of Winter eventually give way to Spring, and then the hustle and bustle of the syrup season brings sweet reward.”

Join me this month as we’ll take a look into the lives of two maple syrup farmers, Margo and Allen Ammons, as they share their love for syrup making, the joy of being outside in the woods, and the anticipation of the season.

The Ammons, long time syrup producers of Northport, operate Leelanau Peninsula Maple Sugar bush and have been tapping into their maple trees for over 35 years now. With over 600 maple trees to tap, the two are gearing up for a long season ahead.

In the late 70’s, they began sugaring as a family activity to get their children outside. “We gave most of our homemade syrup to friends and family and they encouraged us to make more,” Al says, and it was clear to him they needed to find more maple trees to tap into.

mapleTheir maple syrup and other delicious maple treats, such as maple sugar, cream, and maple-coated nuts can be found at their self-serve farm stand, the Northport Farmers Market on Fridays, and at Suttons Bay Farmers Market on Saturdays in the Spring, Fall, and Summer.  Their syrup is also featured at Tom’s Food Market in Northport, as well as Martha’s Leelanau Table in Suttons Bay and many other local restaurants.

According to the Ammons, the sugaring process is simple. You harvest the sap from the maple tree, remove water from maple sap, and concentrate the naturally occurring sugar down to the syrup stage. The sap will generally flow when warm days (above freezing temperatures) occur coupled with cold nights (below freezing), this can happen anytime between January and early April. “Every year is different, we have to pay close attention to Michigan weather conditions because the number of days sap will flow can be few,” says Margo and Allen. Most producers need to be ready in January, but because it could happen anytime between then and April, they are always ready to tap and boil!

Each year, Leelanau Peninsula Maple Sugar Bush produces an astounding IMG_2578several hundred gallons of syrup and to do this they need to start out with 35 to 65 times that volume in sap in order to achieve the syrupy consistency and sugar content we all love! Margo and Allen currently utilize a high efficiency, wood fired sap evaporator to boil off the excess water from the sap.

Here are some helpful tips from Margo and Allen for their delicious maple syrup: “Pure maple is not just for breakfast!” Try using it broadly as an ingredient in cooking and baking, anytime you would like the flavor of maple. Lighter grades of syrup generally have a delicate maple flavor, and the darker grades have a strong flavor profile. Try using darker syrup as an ingredient in recipes where you want that taste to come thru, like a marinade for meat, barbecue sauce, or in a basting sauce for fish.

“Our favorite maple dish typically involves baking a winter squash or perhaps some sweet potatoes and carrots, perhaps a little sausage, or chopped nuts, with some syrup. There are so many ways to enjoy maple!”

For those who are interested in making syrup, Margo and Allen encourage obtaining the North American Maple Syrup Producers Manual, and, attending the annual Michigan Maple syrup Producers meeting in January. “One of the great things about syrup making is that most anyone who knows how can be used as a resource of knowledge, techniques, equipment needs, and so on.”

Bailey Samp is the Local Food Coordinator for NW Michigan and the Owner of Lakeview Hill Farm. She enjoyed delicious blueberry pancakes and homemade maple syrup for breakfast after writing this. She can be contacted at bailey@localdifference.org.

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