"I adore my copper pan," Marcel Locke, maker of some of the nation's purest and most delicate maple syrups, says with a lilting twang that betrays his roots in northernmost Vermont. That state's syrup industry has famously exacting production laws to guarantee quality, but even by its measures, Locke is extraordinarily fussy. Let others boil their sap in stainless steel; for Locke--the 61-year-old, third-generation proprietor of Ma and Pa's Maples--only copper will do. Though more expensive, it cuts down on the amount of wood he has to burn, he says. It's a classic example of Yankee thrift, but he believes that the metal imparts a distinctive smoothness to the syrup as well. He's just as particular about insisting that the taps on his prized sugar maples flow only into galvanized steel pails--he'd sooner go to his grave than hook his trees up to a plastic pipeline, the industry standard. (Plastic saves time, but Locke, for one, suspects that it imparts petroleum flavors to the sap.) Each spring, with help from his six grandsons, he rushes 18,000 gallons of fresh sap to his custom-built sugarhouse and boils them down into 400 gallons of pristine blond syrup. Although he ships the amber liquid in cans, those who visit Locke in Albany Center may purchase it in stout glass gallon jugs, which his most ardent customers consider the ultimate vessel--glass preserves the aromatic flavor better than those cute, boxy tins (802-754-6401).

    By Matt Lee and Ted Lee