During the spring in Ontario, it is not uncommon to see pails hanging from maple trees and steam billowing from bushes. Making maple syrup and learning about the process is a tradition that is part of many childhoods, even including school field trips to the local sugar bush.
We make maple syrup every few years as part of a family tradition, filling our pantries with this wonderful natural sweetener. The process is fairly simple but does take time and patience for mother nature.
Tapping Maple Trees
Making maple syrup starts with collecting sap from sugar maple trees. A hole is drilled into the tree for a tap to be installed allowing for the sap to be collected. Depending on the diameter of the maple tree, it will dictate how many taps can be installed per tree. A tap also needs to be kept away from previous year’s taps.
The sap flows when the nights are below freezing and the days are above freezing. There are many factors that will impact the amount of sap that a tree will produce. To collect the sap, there are different techniques which range from pails hung on the tree to commercial vacuum systems. We use a gravity hose system collected into large barrels to allow for the sap to be collected less regularily.
Maple sap from a sugar maple tree will be approximately 2% sugar. It is approxmately a 40:1 ratio of sap to finished maple syrup product. Traditionally sap is boiled in an evaporator pan to reduce the water content and this boiling is often done over a wood fire. In recent years systems such as reverse osmosis have been used to help reduce the inital water content and therefore reduce the amount of time needed to boil the syrup.
The Final Maple Product
Once the syrup is at the right consitency and sugar content it is filtered and put into hot bottles. The final product is a delicious natural sweet treat that traditonally is enjoyed over pancakes, but also has many other applications. I like to use maple syrup as a sweetner in some drinks, as well as in my Homemade Breakfast Granola.
I’d love to hear about your expericence with maple sryup and your family’s traditions. I have fond memories of attending the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival as a child.