We interviewed Eugenie Doyle, author of "Sleep Tight Farm" - our 2017 Book of the Year.
1) How is maple syrup made?
In a process of boiling and evaporation originally discovered by Native Americans, maple syrup comes from the sap of the sugar maple, red maple, or black maple tree.
2) Can you describe the process?
Sugar is stored as starch in the roots of these trees in the fall and early winter. When temperatures rise above freezing in late February, March, and April, the starch converts to sugar and rises as sap through the xylem of the trees where it can be collected from taps drilled into the outer layers of bark.
Temperatures dropping below freezing at night temporarily stops the “run” of sap and delays the warming of the tree which would signal the tree to start budding. The running and collection of sap depends of these ideal fluctuating temperatures - daytime in the 40s; nighttime below 32. the sugaring season generally runs for 4-6 weeks although warming climate is shortening that.
3) How do we get sap out of the tree?
We, and most modern sugar makers, use vacuum pumps to help draw the sap gently from the trees through the taps into tubing and then into gathering tanks. The sap flows from trees to tanks through plastic tubing. This is a much more efficient and labor saving technique than the hanging of galvanized buckets which had to be collected and dumped into horse or tractor drawn tanks. But I do miss the “plink-plink” sound of sap dripping into a metal bucket. For me that used to be a sound of spring!
From the gathering tanks the sap is pumped onto trucks and taken to a sugarhouse where it is boiled on a wood or oil-fired evaporator.
It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup.
4) Is sap the same as syrup?
No, sap is water with a 2% sugar content. Syrup is about 70% sugar. Boiling off the water is the magical process that makes the difference.
5) The grading of syrup was updated a few years ago to be consistent with Canadian labels. We now have one grade only, Grade A and four color/flavor categories.
Our award winning Maple Bread and Butter pickles are my favorite way to eat syrup. But on pancakes and in smoothies is second best. A favorite local treat is “sugar on snow" where you pour syrup on a bowlful of fresh snow. Yum!
Read Eugenie's accurate ag book "Sleep Tight Farm" to learn more about life on a family farm!