The Sugar Season: A Year in the Life of Maple Syrup, and One Family?s Quest for the Sweetest Harvest

Hardcover | March 4, 2014

byDouglas Whynott

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A year in the life of one New England family as they work to preserve an ancient, lucrative, and threatened agricultural art--the sweetest harvest, maple syrup...

How has one of America's oldest agricultural crafts evolved from a quaint enterprise with "sugar parties" and the delicacy "sugar on snow" to a modern industry?

At a sugarhouse owned by maple syrup entrepreneur Bruce Bascom, 80,000 gallons of sap are processed daily during winter's end. In The Sugar Season, Douglas Whynott follows Bascom through one tumultuous season, taking us deep into the sugarbush, where sunlight and sap are intimately related and the sound of the taps gives the woods a rhythm and a ring. Along the way, he reveals the inner workings of the multimillion-dollar maple sugar industry. Make no mistake, it's big business--complete with a Maple Hall of Fame, a black market, a major syrup heist monitored by Homeland Security, a Canadian organization called The Federation, and a Global Strategic Reserve that's comparable to OPEC (fitting, since a barrel of maple syrup is worth more than a barrel of oil).

Whynott brings us to sugarhouses, were we learn the myriad subtle flavors of syrup and how it's assigned a grade. He examines the unusual biology of the maple tree that makes syrup possible and explores the maples'--and the industry's--chances for survival, highlighting a hot-button issue: how global warming is threatening our food supply. Experts predict that, by the end of this century, maple syrup production in the United States may suffer a drastic decline.

As buckets and wooden spouts give way to vacuum pumps and tubing, we see that even the best technology can't overcome warm nights in the middle of a season--and that only determined men like Bascom can continue to make a sweet like off of rugged land.

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From the Publisher

A year in the life of one New England family as they work to preserve an ancient, lucrative, and threatened agricultural art--the sweetest harvest, maple syrup...How has one of America's oldest agricultural crafts evolved from a quaint enterprise with "sugar parties" and the delicacy "sugar on snow" to a modern industry?At a sugarhouse...

Douglas Whynott is the critically acclaimed author of four nonfiction books. He has written articles and essays for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Discover, Smithsonian, Outside, Islands, Reader's Digest, Yankee, and other publications. In True Stories, a history of literary journalism by Norman Sims published in 2008, Whynott i...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.98 inPublished:March 4, 2014Publisher:Da Capo BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0306822040

ISBN - 13:9780306822049

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Customer Reviews of The Sugar Season: A Year in the Life of Maple Syrup, and One Family?s Quest for the Sweetest Harvest


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Editorial Reviews

“The cycle of the maple season is one of the great signifiers of the mountain year in the northeast. It is lovingly delineated here, with a foreshadowing of the shifts ahead in a changing world. May it move us to action!”—Bill McKibben, author of Oil and Honey“Whynott has delivered the most complete and compelling account to date of the modern maple industry. His cast of vividly drawn characters and his descriptions of the challenges they overcome will make you feel like you’re right there beside them in the North Country’s sugarbushes. It’s one sweet read.”—Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland“Once again, Douglas Whynott demonstrates his uncanny ability to open up what seems to be ordinary and reveal it as something much more than we ever could have imagined. In this case, it’s the maple syrup industry, and Whynott take us from the metal bucket hanging on a tree into a world of currency bets, Global Strategic Reserves, climate change, and international trade. It’s quite a story, and quite a book.”—Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of ProhibitionKirkus Reviews, 1/15/2014“Thorough research provides fascinating insight into the sweet business of maple syrup.”Library Journal, 3/1/2014“Whynott examines both the complicated past of the maple syrup industry and questions about its futureIn a world where one barrel of syrup is worth more than a barrel of oil, Whynott’s descriptions of black market dealings and syrup heists highlight the value of this sweet cropBalancing the global history of the maple syrup trade with its local impact, The Sugar Season immerses readers in a reading experience both historical and personal in nature.”Publishers Weekly, 2/21/2014“This inside look at the ups and downs of the maple syrup industry over its year-long harvesting and production cycle will be fascinating to anyone interested in the modern food industry, the effect of global warming on agriculture, and just how that sweet syrup got from a stand of sugar maples to the breakfast tableEnlightening and alarming.”Minneapolis Star Tribune, 3/9/14“Tells the story of the annual sap run, when the cycle of warming daytime temperatures and nighttime freezes triggers the movement of sap in the sugar maples. Despite growth and technological advances, it remains such an elemental story—of trees and their biology, of children working alongside grandparents, of steam and sparks in the sugar house in the overnight boiling down of the sapLyrical history, geography and insights into family life centered around a demanding business.”Boston Globe, 3/5/14“A wide-ranging look inside the maple syrup businessWhynott skillfully explains how maple syrup gets made, how vitally important weather is, and how global warming may threaten the industry’s futureWhynott’s engaging book offers a skillful and fascinating peek behind the curtain of one of the region’s oldest and most beloved traditional industries.”Boston Globe, 3/10/14“Whynott offers scores of statistics while keeping his narrative focused squarely on the people who labor in the sugarhouses that dot the New England Landscape.”New York Post, 3/2/14“While focusing on New Hampshire’s Bascom family, who’ve been producing maple syrup since 1853, Whynott details a multimillion-dollar industry with its own hall of fame, a black market and an OPEC-like organization. And if you’ve ever wondered how reverse osmosis figures in maple syrup, you’ll find out here.”Taste for Life, March 2014“Offers a glimpse into one of the oldest agricultural crafts in the US and the challenges it faces.”, 3/4/14“What began as a curious search to uncover the mechanics and marketing of maple syrup turns, in his calm telling, into a case study of how venerable family enterprises deal with an uncertain futureParts of this tale recall John McPhee’s fact-laden reports about our earth and those who seek to comprehend its hidden components.”Winnipeg Free Press, 3/1/14“There are many flavours in this affectionate look at the maple-syrup industry in the United States, along with a light taste of the Canadian flowThe Sugar Season includes nostalgia, family histories, business competition, technological development, the free-market approach of the U.S. (compared to the marketing-board approach of Quebec) and, as a disturbing subtext, environmental concernThe Sugar Season does a good job of taking us from the days of tin buckets and wooden spouts to vacuum pumps and tubing, also providing readers with a look to the future[Whynott] makes you pause and appreciate a nibble on a maple leaf sugar candy.”Saveur, 3/6/14“A closely observed portrait of a largely unknown world—one that is full of interesting characters who have devoted their lives to transforming an intensely seasonal crop into a global commodityit’s a smart, engrossing read that gives this sweet crop—one of America’s oldest agricultural products—its full due.”Shelf Awareness for Readers, 3/14/14“Whynott delves into the industry’s particulars, shining light on its history, science and politics. Whynott’s love for his subject is clear; his writing grows lyrical when he rhapsodizes about winter walks in the woods or the taste of pure maple syrup fresh off the boil A fascinating glimpse into an ancient process that feeds a thoroughly modern industry.”Roanoke Times, 3/9/14“Pass me the doughboys and a bottle of Grade A Light Amber, please.”Hudson Valley News, 3/5/14“DelightfulThis fascinating book tells us what we need to know about an undertaking that is steeped in tradition and is now embracing new technologies that can ensure its continuing existence. It’s a sweet read.”Manchester Union-Leader, 3/8/14“Tells the story of the 2012 sugar season as well as Bascom’s rise to being the largest maple syrup producer in the Granite State.”InfoDad, 3/13/14“An enthralling exploration of the maple-syrup industry and the people who keep this very old occupation (by American standards) going in the 21st centuryIntriguing and engaging.”Beverly Citizen, 3/15/14“[A] fascinating exploration of the maple syrup industryPart business case study and part John McPhee nonfiction adventure into the depths of a subject—as told by a host of driven, devoted and talented characters. Whynott’s comprehensive lay of the land includes climate change, the transformation of syrup production into a bankable industry, the interdependent community of syrup makers, the forests and their health, the process of making syrup and the complexity of the syrup itself.”Easthampton Valley Advocate (Ma), 3/13/14“Shows the business of maple sugaring as a sophisticated, complex industry, subject, like all industries, to market forces and circumstances beyond producers’ control.”Toronto Globe and Mail, 3/22/14“Provides keen insights into this particular branch of modern agriculture, and makes a strong case for maple syrup as a bellwether for the continent’s environmental health.”The Writer, May 2014“An in-depth contemplation of the maple syrup industry.”Keene Sentinel, 4/6/14“[Whynott] introduces readers to many of Bascom’s neighbors, maple syrup makers who produce it in the wood-fired mom-and-pop traditions of quintessential New Hampshire. The book doesn’t hide the sour side of the industry or even the Bascom family warts.”Berkeley Beacon, 4/3/14“Sheds light on the underappreciated maple syrup industry[Whynott’s] words bring the reader to the sugarhouses, making the importance of maple syrup a relatable topic for anyone.”San Francisco Book Review, 4/11/14“[Whynott] takes us through the entire process from sapling to store shelf, from how it was done in the past to the current processI was amazed how easily Whynott provided an educational experience with the feel of a heartfelt memoirThis book is just too delicious to pass up.”Greenfield Recorder, 4/12/14“Whynott spins a riveting taleHe convincingly argues that because of its dependence on individual trees and temperatures, the maple business may be closer to nature than most other enterprises.”Digital Americana, Winter 2014“One of those rare texts that makes you want to know more about the subject that you are being told aboutThe story that Whynott presents to us is an inherently American one.”Keene Sentinel, 4/13/2014"Whynott’s deft hand makes The Sugar Season an admiring book about a hard-working, imaginative, determined family building an ancient rite of spring into a thriving, honorable life with nature...[An] eye-opening, behind-the-scene book."Green Book Festival, 2014 Award Winner, General Nonfiction CategoryVermont Country SamplerApril 2014“To understand what could happen this year and the years to come—for better or worse—read The Sugar Season.”The Hippo, 3/13/14“[Whynott] keeps the book interesting with a family narrative.”VegNews, August 2014“An engaging and heartwarming read of the maple syrup business.”Washington Independent Review of Books, 7/23/14“A remarkable ode to the evolution of the maple sugar industry, from its humble beginnings to today’s multibillion-dollar foothold in the world economy. It’s a peek behind the curtain to the world of maple sugaring that exists beyond the rustic facadeWhynott provides a compelling overview into an industry entering the 21st century with head-spinning technological advances.”, 6/19/14“[Whynott] is a master of observation and description, who combines just the right amount of romanticism and humor with research and factsAn intricate, information-packed story. There is also a whole lot of drama and international intrigueBut the book also looks at the richness within life as a maple farmer: the multigenerational traditions and history, the community building and friendships, and the beauty of the forest and ecological respect for the treeThe Sugar Season serves as a thorough, hard-hitting example of the ripple effect climate change and pollution can and will have.”Arcadiana Lifestyle, October 2014“Offer[s] ways to wean yourself off that sweet stuff.”Yankee Magazine, December 2014“A terrific read, with many intriguing facts about botany, technology, and international business. But it’s also the story of people doing what they love in a place they love.”Curled Up with a Good Book, 11/20/14“[A] fascinating look at the trees that make the syrup that make our pancakes taste so special[Whynott] has underscored for his readership, old-fashioned ‘Yankee’ virtues of hard work, family cohesion, and honesty, centering mainly on the Bascom clan whose livelihood is measured by the gallonUnder Whynott’s skilled eye for detail, this book shows the syrup business as different in kind, but not in culture, from other family farming endeavors in AmericaTo read this book is to be educated and enthralled. All the talk of grades and colors and sweetness will almost certainly drive you to the supermarket to purchase as near to authentic maple syrup as you can find, and turn on the griddle.”Campus Circle,12/9/14“Tells of life on a maple syrup harvesting farm, complete with all the seasonal ups and downs.”Better Homes & Gardens Country Gardens, January 2015 “[The] most palatable of stories.”Literary Journalism Studies, Fall 2015“More than just a bucolic account about those engaged with a nurturing natureIt’s the kind of narrative that celebrates the ordinary of everyday life. In doing so, however, it uncovers the extraordinary.”