We all know that if you give a pig a pancake she’ll want some pure maple syrup to go with it, but have you ever thought of where that sticky, sweet substance comes from?
The process of making pure maple syrup here at Maple Row Sugarhouse is a long and time-consuming process that requires many steps. In this post, I will be giving you a brief overview of this process.
First, we have to understand how Maple trees function. In the warm growing months of summer, the tree soaks in sunlight, turning it into sugar and storing it in the top of the trees. Towards the end of winter when the trees thaw during the day and freeze at night, this water-sugar mix travels downward to supply nutrients to the roots. This mixture is what we call sap which consists of approximately 98% water and 2% sugar.
To harvest this sap, we Sugarmakers taps the tree just past the bark, about two inches in. In this incision, a plastic spout is inserted to allow the sap to channel out of the tree. For many years a bucket would be hung from this spout to catch the sap as it flowed out. Today we Sugarmakers use lines of tubing strung throughout the woods. This tubing serves two purposes. One, to save us time and effort by catching the sap and transport it to the collection tanks as opposed to us having to collect thousands of buckets. Two, to add suction to the line in order to suck a larger amount of sap from the tree allowing us to leave a smaller environmental footprint while also reaching our highest potential point of efficiency.
Once the sap is collected it is transported in truckloads to the sugar house and filtered to remove any impurities. Since sap is 98% water, an average of 40 gallons of sap is required to make a single gallon of pure maple syrup.
Once at the sugar house the process of removing the water begins. First, the sap is run through a Revers Osmosis machine extracting the water taking the sugar level from 2% to 22%. With a large portion of the water now removed, the sap is pumped into the evaporator where it is boiled over 200 degrees until the sugar level reaches brix 66%. How long the sap is boiled will greatly affect the color and taste of the syrup. An expert Sugarmaker will be able to tell when the sap has turned to syrup by testing it throughout the boiling process. There is no exact time for this process which means the sap must be watched and tested continually.
Once the water has been boiled out, the syrup will run through a filter press to remove any last impurities before being stored. Each batch of syrup has a sample taken to verify density, color, and flavor.
This entire process is accomplished during the harvest season, which takes place between January and April. During these few months of freezing nights and warm days is when all syrup production is made for the entire year. Past these months all syrup is stored in stainless steel barrels until bottled for distribution.
There you go. The next time you add pure maple syrup to your pancakes you’ll know exactly how it got from the tree to your table and appreciate the work that went into creating such a sweet sticky treat.