Bittersweet March in maple country

The maple-sugar season is off to an early start, and that's not a good thing, according to Brian F. Chabot, professor of ecology and a resident maple expert at Cornell University.

The generally warm conditions this month could end up holding down yields in the Northeast, one of the world's most-important syrup-harvesting regions, he said.

Typically, the best conditions drawing sap out of the trees are freezing nights and thawing days, conditions common in later March and April in "normal" years.

But if you've been anywhere east of the Rockies the last few months, you don't have to be told this hasn't been a normal year.

Those March and April conditions were rather shockingly prevalent in January and February. "This year it's all happening earliler," he said.

"It may have an impact on the amount of sap." Fewer freezing nights would mean fewer days for sap harvesting.

On the plus side, some of the syrup could be darker and more flavorful and darker, and that's the result of bacteria and yeast that are having a blast in the warmth.

We also suspect that the winter hurt syrup sales in that the warmth mitigated those carbohydrate-craving, hibernation-response appetites that heavily turn to the likes of pancakes and waffles.