Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thankful for An Awesome Autumn

AAAAn Awesome Autumn!

Our amazing 2014 autumn season is fading here in Southeastern Wisconsin, but the scene was quite awesome for the past two months.   Many claim their favorite season of the year is AUTUMN, and fall of 2014 was an affirmation of that claim:  lovely leaves on our trees…crisp cool days…an abundance of sunshine!

Our autumn experience is enhanced by the Sugar Maple tree, adorned with fiery fall colors (I photographed this foliage at a nearby botanical garden). Wisconsin selected the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) as our State tree years ago; the visual display every autumn is reason enough to be chosen, but this species also provides shade during summer, and a special treat in early spring:  maple syrup!

Delicious maple syrup sap is acquired by tapping into the sugary liquid within the tree’s trunk.  In cold climates, trees store starches (carbohydrates) within their root systems over winter.  When warmer days of springtime arrive, the xylem layer within each tree conducts water, nutrients and carbohydrates from the root system, to the top of the tree. This xylem sap is extracted and will be transformed into maple syrup, which is naturally rich in the sugar, sucrose.

To achieve just one gallon of this “sweet gold,” FORTY GALLONS of watery liquid must be simmered to evaporate the water component; this reduction method yields just ONE GALLON of syrup.  Maple syrup is traditionally used to enhance waffles, pancakes and oatmeal; however, it has additional culinary applications. Often chefs and creative cooks incorporate a touch of maple syrup in their savory dishes; it adds a delightful flavor component to the dish!

A colleague of mine, Horticulturist Brian Karth of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, participates in the maple “sugaring off” ritual each spring.   He thoroughly enjoys the process and demonstrates proper techniques to others.  Centuries ago maple syrup was collected and used by our Native Americans, who also shared their techniques with the European settlers who arrived here.   Maple syrup is just one more reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day.   Our Thanksgiving holiday is the unofficial conclusion of autumn… and this year, it was an awesome autumn!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture