Story of Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is made from maple sap, collected from sugar
maple trees in very late winter and early spring. The sap is
a very dilute liquid containing from 1% to 7% sugar, varying
from tree to tree and probably averaging around 2% sugar. It
takes approximately 40 gallons of this sap to produce 1
gallon of maple syrup.
As the end of winter approaches, the farmer breaks roads
through the snow to the sugar house, and throughout his
maple woods. He then proceeds to wash and sterilize all his
Next comes the tapping of the sugar maples. A 7/16 inch hole
is drilled into the tree to a depth of about 1 1/2 to 2
1/2 inches. Into this is driven a "spout." These spouts are
rather like modified pieces of pipe from which the bucket
is hung or pipeline is run. A cover keeps dirt and rain
water out of the buckets until collection; pipeline carries
the sap directly from the tree to the storage tank.
To make top quality maple products the sap must be fresh
and cold, which means it must be gathered and boiled
often. In some modern sugar orchards small plastic
tubing is attached directly to the spouts. The sap then flows through the small plastic tubes to larger pipes,
and directly to the storage tank, thus saving the labor of
gathering the sap. Other sugar makers use large gathering
tanks which are pulled by tractors or horses through the
woods. The sap, which has dripped drop-by-drop from the
spouts, is dumped from the sap bucket into the gathering
pail, which is then carried to the sled. Here it is dumped
through a strainer into the "gathering tank." When the tank
is full, it is hauled to the "sugarhouse" and emptied into
an elevated "storage tank" to await "boiling."
From the storage tank the sap flows, to the "evaporator".
Evaporators are large pans, varying in size according
to the size of the operation. A popular size is 5 feet
wide and 16 feet long. Most evaporators have two pans; the
flue pan and the syrup pan. The sap flows first to the flue
pan, which has a bottom made of flues to provide a greater heating surface, and then to the flat bottomed
syrup pan. The pans are divided by partitions, which creates
a continual but very slow movement of sap from the
point where it enters the evaporator around the many
partitions and finally out of the evaporator as syrup.
To evaporate the tremendous amount of water in the sap,
a large quantity of fuel must be burned. Some producers
use oil, however most sugar makers use wood cut from their
own woodlots as fuel. Sugar makers like to have the wood cut
and finely split a year in advance of sugaring, as dry wood
boils the sap much faster. Preparing this wood is hard work,
requiring many days of labor.
It takes a long time for the 2% sap to be condensed by the
evaporation process to the exact density of maple syrup. If cooked too thick the resulting syrup will crystallize. If
the syrup is too thin it will be apt to ferment. Sugar makers
use a hydrometer to check the density. When the hydrometer
settles in the liquid syrup to a mark
designating the correct density, the syrup is drawn from the
pan. It is then filtered again to remove the nitre (or sugar
sand) which has developed in the boiling process.
From the filtering tank the maple syrup flows into small
retail containers or into 35 and 50 gallon drums to be
packed later. The syrup is packed hot and each can must be
sealed according to Vermont law. The grade of syrup and the
packer's name and address must be marked on the can.
As you can see, making maple syrup is a fairly long and
costly process, but the excellent tasting, high quality
product which results makes it all worthwhile.