RANDOLPH, Vt. (AP) -- The mountains of snow that have buried the North-east this winter will have a sweet and just slightly bitter taste for the region's maple syrup producers.
Sweet because an abundance of snow actually helps with the production of the sap that is boiled down to produce syrup. But bitter because, well, too much snow is just as much a chore for maple syrup producers to deal with as it is for the rest of us.
And most of us don't make our livings -- or even hobbies -- out of clambering over snow drifts in the woods tapping trees and repairing plastic tubing to gather sap from far-flung maple trees.
AP Photo - - Maple syrup bottles line a shelf in the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in East Montpelier, Vt. The state of Vermont is considered the country’s maple syrup giant.
Still, on the whole, "snow is considered a good thing," said Steve Childs, New York state maple specialist with Cornell University.
It moderates the temperature in the woods, keeping it cool if the air warms up, which is good for maple. The snow layers also insulate the ground, keeping it from freezing too deep so trees can draw up moisture during sap flow, which can start in February, or earlier if there's a thaw.
"So we like to see some snow," he said. "Of course, if it gets deeper than what maple tubing lines are then it gets to be quite a problem, but I don't think we're there in most places. That's usually like 3 feet to 5 feet."
Of course, winter isn't over quite yet.
With another big storm, the Silloway farm in Randolph Center, Vt., could be approaching that, with more than 2 feet of snow already in the woods at the beginning of February.
"The deep snow will keep the ground thawed out so sap will start when the air temperature is ready," said David Silloway, 65, a syrup producer and dairy farmer. "The deep snow will keep the sap cool, air cool, so that it will make lighter syrup."
Lighter syrup is typically produced early in the season when it's colder. As it warms up the syrup tends to get darker with a more robust flavor as microorganisms feed on the sugar coming out of the tree.
"It's kind of like cheese. The flavor is dictated by the micro-organisms," said Timothy Perkins, director of the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center.
Since Silloway has a bad knee, his nephew hikes around their nearly 20 acres in early winter when there's only about a foot of snow on the ground to check the plastic tubing that runs tree to tree to collect sap. After two storms dumped more than 2 feet of snow in early February, they'll have to use snowshoes and snowmobiles to get out to tap the nearly 2,000 trees, unless there's a big thaw.
Thanks to all that snow, the whole process could take three to four days, rather than one to two when there's not much left on the ground.
"It just gets harder to work in the woods," said Winton Pitcoff, coordinator for the Massachusetts Maple Pro-ducers Association. "The guys that are running tubing deep into the woods are used to having to use snowshoes and stuff like that, but with 4 feet of snow on the ground it just gets harder and harder."
His advice: wait. "The snow will compact eventually," he said.
Last year, spring came on fast in New England, warming up too much and cutting the season short for some, particularly those who collect sap in buckets hanging from trees. That's prompted more producers to install vacuum lines, which actually pull the sap from the tree.
"Particularly after last year the evidence was really there that it makes a huge difference," said Pitcoff. "You get more sap, significantly more sap."
But seasons are unpredictable. It all comes down to the weather during those several weeks of sugaring season. That's the period when temperatures rise above freezing enough for trees to run sap and before it's warm enough for them to push out leaves.
Warm days followed by below freezing nights is prime sugaring weather, so that frozen trees full of sap thaw out and push out sap through holes and then freeze up at night and suck in moisture from the ground for more sap production.
The previous spring and summer also play a role.
Vermont the country's maple syrup giant, which produced 890,000 gallons in 2010 had a good growing season last year. With ample moisture and plenty of sunshine the trees were able to produce enough sugar through photosynthesis.
"They went into the winter being very healthy," said Perkins said.
The snow will help, Childs said. And it's likely to provide ample supply for sugar-on-snow parties. But syrup producers won't know what kind of season they're having until it's all over.
"It could turn 70 degrees and all the snow could leave in three days and we'd be right back where we started from," Childs said.
Maple-Thyme Poached Salmon with Skillet Potatoes
Start to finish: 30 minutes. Serves 4.
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1-1/2 pounds new potatoes, very thinly sliced
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 pounds salmon, trimmed, skinned and cut into 4 fillets
Heat the oven to 350 F.
In a large ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the oil, swirling to coat the pan. Arrange the potato slices evenly over the bottom of the skillet, overlapping and layering them. Sprinkle the potatoes generously with salt and black pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, then transfer to the oven and cook until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the salmon.
In a large saute pan, stir together the maple syrup, soy sauce and thyme. Heat over medium until just bubbling around the edges.
Add the salmon fillets and cook for 3 to 4 minutes for salmon that is 1 inch thick. Use a spatula to gently turn the salmon fillets over and cook for another 3 to 4 more minutes, or until just barely pink at the middle and beginning to flake. Use a slotted spatula to remove from the pan. Serve with the potatoes.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 548 calories; 194 calories from fat (35 percent of total calories); 22 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 125 mg cholesterol; 38 g carbohydrate; 49 g protein; 3 g fiber; 888 mg sodium.
Start to finish: 50 minutes (20 minutes active). Serves 6 to 8.
2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons maple syrup, or more to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons granulated maple sugar
Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the parsnips, garlic, salt, maple syrup and oil. Toss well to coat, then transfer to the prepared baking sheet, arranging the parsnips in an even layer. Bake for 45 minutes, or until tender and starting to brown. During roasting, stir the parsnips every 15 minutes for even browning.
In small bowl, mix together the black pepper and maple sugar. Sprinkle this over the parsnips, then return them to the oven for another 5 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 126 calories; 19 calories from fat (15 percent of total calories); 2 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 27 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 6 g fiber; 312 mg sodium.