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 sugaring equipment.
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. Order some from our online shop or come see our process in action (see map directions). We’d love to see you!