by Northgate Sugar Maples
Maple syrup is one of the most important discoveries in the common era, and no matter if you are a lover of maple toffy on the snowbank or a more traditional over pancake kind of guy or gal, the stuff is truly heavenly. But the real question is, how does maple syrup get made? It is a bit of a tricky art that has been perfected over the generations. Today’s maple producers have perfected the art of creating maple syrup to not only allow for healthy maple trees to continue to grow on their farm but to allow for the commercialization of the industry as a whole. In this article, we are going to take a deep dive into the sticky process that allows for maple syrup to go from tree to table.
Maple harvest traditionally happens between early March and late April, but it all depends on the weather that year, and the region. The colder the winter, the later that the sap will run. Traditionally Quebec and Ontario have later sap runs than those in Vermont or Maine. The sap gathering only happens for 12-20 days and requires maple farms to have all-hands-on-deck during collection.
Collection of Maple Sap
Real maple syrup does not grow on the tree, it is within the tree. The traditional process of collecting maple sap goes back for generations and has been relatively the same in present day farms. The only reason that works is that of gravity, and a little thing called the sun. During the night, a maple tree will collect water from the soil and absorb it up the trunk. During the day, the sun warms the tree, which causes the water to trickle back down the trunk towards the ground, bringing with it, the maple sap. To collect this sap, the farmer or collector will tap the tree. The taps go through the bark, but not deep into the wood as to not hurt the tree. The tap provides an exit point for the sap, and traditionally a sugar bush, otherwise known as a bucket, would be attached to the tap to collect the sap. Today, the larger maple farms have a collection system with hoses that connect to massive storage tanks. A tree can be tapped once it reaches 8 inches in diameter, for every additional 8 inches, a tree can receive another tap. The maximum number of taps per tree is three, as this ensures that the maple tree will be able to continue to grow and stay healthy.
Production of Maple Syrup
Once the collection tanks start to get filled, the sap is transported to the Sugar House. The Sugar House will start the process of boiling down the sap to produce maple syrup. During this process, the storage tank pipes feed sap to a long and narrow ridged pan called an evaporator. As the sap boils, water evaporates from it and the sap becomes denser and sweeter. This process is continued until the product is pure enough to call maple syrup. Generally, for every 40 litres of sap, there will be one litre of maple syrup left after the boil. If you think of the work and energy that maple syrup takes, it is no wonder that the product has been jokingly called liquid gold.
Canning/ Bottling of Maple Syrup
Depending on the company or farm, the finished maple syrup product has a few option for its final destination. If the company is selling to larger retailers or tourists, the bottling line will come in handy, where the sticky syrup is loaded into glass bottles for resale. For those who will not be exporting out of the area, the maple syrup will be either bottled in plastic or simply a tin can. This provides the farm with an easy to ship option that will lack the complexities that come with shipping glass to and from their warehouse.
Other Maple Products
If you are a connoisseur of real maple syrup, you will also know that maple comes in many forums during the sap season. However, for each of these products, the process is just a little different.
Maple butter is typically made by boiling the sap 10 degrees Celsius over the boiling point of water, and then cooling it to 52 degrees Celsius. The mixture is then stirred consistently until it reaches a smooth consistency. Typically, Grade A Light Amber syrup is used for the process. A gallon of syrup will generally make three kilograms of maple butter.
Maple sugar is simply remnants of a maple syrup or maple taffy boil. All of the water has been boiled off, and what is left at the bottom of the evaporator is pure solid sugar. The composition of maple sugar is almost 90% sucrose, with the rest either glucose or fructose. It is a tough process to refine taffy or syrup and not burn the sugar at the bottom, but many top end farms are able to yield a practically zero waste product during their sap season. They will be able to sell maple sugar in pressed blocks or as a translucent candy that is one of our favourite treats!
Maple taffy is one of the toughest things to make out of maple sap, but the results are truly amazing. The sap will be boiled at a temperature of 112 degrees Celsius and should not be stirred. You can either keep the pot hot over a low flame or in a pan of hot water. The taffy should not run, but instead be soft. When ready, you traditionally pour it over clean snow and enjoy it on a stick. To get the best results, ensure that the taffy reaches a high temperature as this will make sure the taffy is thicker and thus softer when you go to enjoy your delicious fresh maple taffy.
No matter if you are looking for maple syrup, maple butter, maple sugar or maple taffy the process is generally the same. It all starts with a mighty maple tree and simple tap, and what results of hours of boiling is a nectar that is deserving of the gods.