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Looking up at maple trees.

Maple Syrup Facts

There's nothing more fun than learning about something new and the following information is an easily digestible list of facts about maple syrup, trees, and a bit of maple history.

The maple process

Maple Syrup Facts

  • The building where the maple syrup is evaporated is called a sugarhouse. The iconic steam emanating from these buildings is a sure tell sign of a sugarhouse.

Steam pouring from the sugarhouse during spring harvest.

  • Native Americans and the pioneers made maple sugar instead of maple syrup because it was easier for them to store without refrigeration.
  • Maple syrup didn't become a mainstream product until the advent of modern canning became popular.
  • The evaporator is the machine used today to boil away, or evaporate, the water from the sap, leaving the rich, sweet maple syrup.

Maple evaporator in the offseason

  • In Vermont, there are four grades of maple syrup that you can purchase: Golden Delicate Taste, Amber Rich Taste, Dark Robust Taste, and Very Dark Strong Taste.
  • All Vermont maple syrup, regardless of its grade, is boiled to a density (or thickness) of 32.0 on the Baumé scale. This temperature is 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.
  • Maple sugar is made by boiling the syrup to a high temperature, to reduce the water content and then stirring until sugar is formed.
  • Maple candy, cream, and sugar are also only made with pure maple syrup. Temperature manipulation, stirring, and cooling are the only ingredients required to produce these delicious maple products.
  • Vermont is the number one producer of maple syrup in the entire United States.

Maple Tree Facts

  • A maple tree has many names; sugar maple, rock maple, and the scientific name, Acer saccharum.
  • A wood with a lot of sugar maples is known by producers as a sugarbush.

maple sugarbush with sap lines.

  • A maple tree should be about 40 years old or 8 inches in diameter to be tapped. At this age, the tree is robust enough to protect itself from disease and spare a few nutrients for syrup production!
  • A new tap hole must be made each year to collect sap. This hole is drilled in the tree's outer flesh protected by the bark called the cambium.
  • Tap holes are strategically drilled around the tree year after year to encourage healing from the previous year.
  • Healthy trees heal the tap holes within three years.
  • During the summer, trees produce starch through photosynthesis that is stored and turned to sugar the next spring.
  • Healthy maple trees have beautiful crowns specifically designed to capture the sun, this also makes them coveted as backyard shade trees.
  • These same beautiful crowns produce amazing fall colors, which draw tourists to the northeast.
  • The maple trees release their sap in the springtime, March to April when they start to wake up from the long winter's nap.
  • When the tree leaves begin to bud, this signals the end of the maple season. 
  • Maple wood also has a long history of use in the making of string instruments such as guitars, violins, and cellos. 
  • If you want to go down a rabbit hole of maple as a tonewood for instruments, check out this blog by Rob Sharer, he notes, "All maple is characterized by the relatively low-velocity transmission of vibration, with high internal dampening." He also goes into depth on the differences between hard and soft maple. I distracted myself for a good while from writing these maple tidbits learning from Rob.

Maple Sap Facts

  • Maple sap is a sweet, water-like liquid that is collected from the cambium or nutrient transporting system of maple trees.
  • Forty gallons of sap are gathered to make one gallon of maple syrup.
  • Warm daytime temperatures above 32 degrees F following nighttime freezing temperatures below 32 degrees F are the conditions required for a sap run.
  • When the tree releases its sap, sugarmakers call that a "sap run".

Sap pouring from a line, collecting at the sugarhouse.

  • A sap runs length and duration are dependent on factors such as moisture, barometric pressure, and temperature fluctuations from night to day.
  • The sugarmaker looks ahead to the forecast and in the spring when they see that the nights are going to freeze followed by warm days, they begin tapping their sugarbush. This typically happens in February depending on the local climate.
  • Colonial sugarmakers traditionally used buckets to collect sap, and some still do, but new, plastic tubing systems have allowed sugarmakers to tap trees that were once difficult to visit during the season. Imagine yourself walking treacherous rock slopes with two five-gallon pails of sap in a precarious balance!

Sap holding tanks full and ready to be evaporated quickly.

  • Maple sap must be kept cold or processed into maple syrup right away to produce the best quality maple syrup. This is why you might not see a sugarmaker in public during the spring months, and if you do, why they might look haggard and run down!

maple sap bucket hanging from a tree.

Sugarmaker Maple Facts

  • The person who harvests and evaporates maple sap into syrup is called a sugarmaker.
  • Native Americans were the first sugarmakers and they taught the European settlers all about the process in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  • As technology and research have become more readily available, forward-leaning sugarmakers are always trying new methods and equipment to better tend for the trees in their care.
  • Sugarmakers often walk their sugarwoods looking for signs of disease and any other health issues throughout the year.
  • For several months before the sap flows, sugarmakers work in the woods every day, clearing fallen branches from maple pipelines and service roads, and repairing damage to their pipelines caused by the woodland animals and wind.

Sugarmaker checking the density of the fresh maple syrup.

  • If a sap run is long, a sugarmaker will work through the night and until morning evaporating maple syrup. It’s not unusual for the sap to run a solid 3 days in a row or longer without letting up.
  • After the few weeks-long spring maple season, the sugarmaker spends many hours in the sugarhouse cleaning all the equipment so it will be ready for the next year.

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