In New England, March means maple syrup! Ever since late February, when I saw the metal sap buckets make their first appearances on the trunks of maple trees, I’ve felt my springtime craving for the sweet syrup return. I have fond memories of the early spring trips to the sugar shack with my parents and sisters while there was still snow on the ground. There we’d watch them boil and boil the sap down over open fires while we’d feast on giant pancakes. I even had a good New England upbringing by hardy Yankee parents who once tried their own hand at tapping maples and boiling the sap down to syrup right in our backyard. But I know that this old tradition is foreign to a lot of people. I remember laughing when local Northampton, MA author, Rich Michelson told me that his first draft of Tuttle’s Red Barn had maple syrup being made in the fall! (In his defense, he’s a born and bred city man and that’s what editors are for anyway, right?)
There are many wonderful books for children that feature making maple syrup with wonderful illustrations. Here are a few of my favorites:
Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney (Puffin Books)
This award-winning picture book follows a year in the life of this New England family during the 1800′s, from shearing the sheep, spinning the wool into yarn and tapping the sugar maples to make syrup to sell at the market. Barbara Cooney’s landscapes are especially beautiful and will make anyone wish they were in New England, even if just for a moment.
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams (HarperTrophy)
In a chapter titled “The Sugar Snow” (which I think may also now be available condensed as its own picture book) Pa explains step-by-step to Mary and Laura how their Grandpa turns sap from maple trees into sweet syrup and sugar. It was in this book that I first learned what weather conditions are best for making maple syrup. “It’s called a sugar snow, because a snow this time of year means that men can make more sugar. You see, this little cold spell and the snow will hold back the leafing of the trees, and that makes a longer run of sap.” So at least there’s something good about this snow we just got during our first week of spring, right?
Have you ever tried maple sugar on snow? When the syrup has boiled hot enough and then it hits cold snow, it balls up into a sweet and hard candy. Both From Dawn till Dusk by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, illustrated by Mary Azarian (Houghton Mifflin) and the new Sugar on Snow by Nan Parson Rossiter (David R. Godine Publishers) show how this special treat is made, while beautifully illustrating how making maple syrup is a family tradition that can bring everyone close.
In Toot and Puddle by Hollie Hobbie (Little, Brown & Co., 1997), Puddle checks the sap buckets on his maple trees. As the two pigs lead readers throughout the year, you learn that where Puddle lives, “March meant maple syrup. Puddle wished Toot were there to taste the pancakes.”
Yum! Pancakes may very well be the perfect food to go with homemade local maple syrup, and there’s no lack of picture books about pancakes either! So stay tuned tomorrow when I share a few of my favorite pancake books (including Eric Carle’s very own pancake recipe).
For more information for children on how maple syrup is made, the blog wordplayhouse has some great photos and clear step-by-step instructions. Check out these free printables perfect for using with your own kids or in a classroom. I also found a great recipe here for maple syrup caramelized popcorn that I tried right away – very yummy!
Have you ever tried making your own maple syrup? Do you have a favorite book for introducing kids to this unique process?