"Maple syrup time -- how we did enjoy that season -- fragrant steam rising from the evaporator in the sugar house.On the kitchen stove, Mother's big pan of hot syrup boiling up into heavy, bursting golden bubbles -- almost ready to pour off and stir into sugar. And how we ate? Hot maple sugar dipped onto clean show, forming little puddles that hardened in a moment. Too sticky to chew, just right to melt away on our tongues. From "High Maples Farm Cookbook" by Edna Smith Berquist

Soon, up north, it will be time to tap the sugar maple to catch the sap which will be boiled down into syrup which children will drizzle on the snow -- or less picturesquely on pancakes.

When the sap begins to run, 30 to 50 million gallons of it will drip into buckets to make the million gallons of syrup the U.S. produces annually. Not to mention those diminutive, moded maple-sugar figures that crowd the counters of stores all over New England.

How could we have chosen apple pie to be as American as when every other nation puts its apples in a pastry shell but only North America produces maple syrup?

Pouring out maple syrup is positively patriotic; even Thomas Jefferson was convinced the tree could sweeten America's independence. In 1790 he wrote a friend that, "Though large countries within our union are covered with the sugar maple as heavily as can be conceived, and that this tree yields a sugar equal to the best from cane, yields it in great quantity . . . yet the ease in which we had formerly got cane sugar, had prevented our attending this resource.

Jefferson's attempts to raise the sugar maple in Virginia failed and maple syrup is still only produced in commercial quantities in the northern states where it takes a period of freezing followed by a period of thawing to set the sap running. And cane syrup and corn syrup and syrups sweetened with chemicals still are gotten with ease and gotten more cheaply.

Yet even if the price keeps maple syrup off your shelf at every other time of year, in spring, when the sap flows, it is a nice idea to celebrate America's sweet.

In lieu of pouring hot maple sugar on the snow, you might try High Maples Farm Cookbook's recipe for maple sauce and pour it over vanilla ice cream: Put into a double boiler 2 egg yolks and beat well. Cook over hot but not boiling water. Stir in slowly 2/3 cup hot maple syrup. Cook and stir until the mixture is the consistency of thin custard. Cool to room temperature and fold in 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped stiff and 1 teaspoon vanilla.