Monday, March 9, 2015

Maple Syrup Making

The beginning of spring always signals maple syrup season for me. Growing up, our family would gather at the family farm to help my grandfather's brother make syrup. Although I was young, I can still recall the warmth of the sugar shack and the smell of smoky wood combined with the sugary sap. At the time I might have been more impressed with the draft horses Uncle Paul used to collect the sap, but today when I see a shack with steam billowing out the top, I appreciate the care, effort, time and resources to make delicious syrup. And I usually pull the car over to se if they're selling yet!

Although my family no longer makes syrup, I still enjoy watching the process. Recently the hub and I visited the Maple Syrup Festival at Malabar Farm State Park near Mansfield, Ohio.

If you're unfamiliar with how syrup is made, sap is collected from sugar maple trees by drilling taps into the trees. The sap starts with a 2 percent sugar content and is slowly boiled down until it reaches a 66 percent sugar content. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of real maple syrup.

Collection methods and evaporators have evolved over the years. My Uncle Paul used galvanized metal buckets hung over the tap to collect the sap. He'd hitch the horses to a sled and drive through the woodlot stopping at each tree to dump the bucket into a large container on the sled which he then dumped into a wood burning evaporator. Many producers today use plastic tubing strung from each tree to a collection vat that can be located at the shack. Evaporators come in a variety of sizes, depending on the number of taps and are are fueled with wood or gas.

Maple syrup season doesn't last long. The sap runs only in early spring when nighttime temperatures are below freezing and daytime temps warm to 40 degrees or above. Be sure to get it while it's available!

Lots of tap options!

A bucket hangs on a tap. The cover helps keep debris out of the sap.

Newer collection methods include plastic tubing transporting the sap to a collection container,

The plastic tubing delivers the sap to the collection barrel.

Tell tale sign sap is boiling: smoke/steam exiting from the shack vent.

Inside the sugar shack the sap is deposited into the evaporator where it's boiled
 into syrup. Sugar content is measured with a hydrometer.

The hub made some new friends.

Be sure to look for "Pure Maple Syrup" on the label. Can't wait for Sunday brunch!

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