Every year, I hope that maybe our Easter trip to my parents’ home in Connecticut will line up with sugar season, that window every New England spring when the temperatures sink below freezing at night but rise into the 40s during the day, with enough sun to warm the trees and encourage the maple sap to flow. Even though I don’t really like that kind of weather, I want my boys to experience what I did as a kid, tramping along in the mud and snow in my grandfather’s booted footsteps as he gathered maple sap and boiled it down into syrup. It takes 40 gallons to make a single gallon of syrup, so a couple energetic helpers would be useful, I know, but so far we’ve missed all the work, instead always getting to enjoy the sweet results of my dad’s labors.
At Christmas time, we make sugar on snow; now that the snow is gone, we made maple candy inside, with nothing but syrup, some simple kitchen equipment, and — because after a visit to Old Sturbridge Village we were feeling old-fashioned — a great deal of arm strength. You can make this, too, with any maple syrup and even an electric mixer.
Pour 2 cups maple syrup into a large pot and bring to a boil. Let it boil gently until it comes to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage: test it by letting some of the boiled syrup drop off the end of a spoon into a glass of water; if it forms a ball, it’s done). Pour it out into a large mixing bowl (or two) and start stirring:
Here’s a close-up action shot of the stirring:
Stir the syrup until it lightens and thickens to the consistency of peanut butter, about five minutes. You can use a hand mixer if your arm gets tired (or your children refuse to stir anymore). If you want to add some toasted walnuts or pecans (a fine idea) stir them in now.
If you have candy molds, by all means use them. We just spread some waxed paper on the counter and experimented with different dollops. Let the candy set at room temperature for about ten minutes. For long-term storage, you’d want to keep it in the refrigerator, but it likely won’t last that long.