It is spring time in New England, the only time when true maple syrup can be produced. This post is specifically about the production of the syrup that we enjoy throughout the year.
If you check the shelves in your local supermarket chances are most of the syrups you find are mostly high fructose corn syrup with a touch of food color and maple flavoring. These are okay to drizzle on pancakes, but are not real maple syrup.
Real maple syrup has only one ingredient, maple sap. In the spring a sugar maple’s sap is collected through taps into metal buckets that will later be collected and brought to the sugar house to be cooked into maple syrup. A modern variation uses gravity fed plastic tubes in place of the buckets to transport the raw sap to a central collection area.
Sap can only be collected in the springtime because the tree needs to have below freezing temperatures at night, and above freezing temperatures during the day in order to make useable sap. Any earlier than this and the tree will still be hibernating for winter and not be producing any sap at all. Later than this the tree will be using the the sugar in the sap for its own growth.
After being collected, sap is stored in large metal tubs to await being cooked. At this point it is no more than water with only 5% sugar.
After enough sap is collected it is moved into a large wood fired boiling pan. Here the sap is slowly reduced into a finished product with a sugar content of at least 66%. It can take up to forty gallons of tree sap to result in just one gallon of maple syrup.
Even though all maple syrups are cooked to the same sugar content they can vary greatly in color and flavor. This variation is because of the weather. Generally a greater difference in outdoor temperature at the time that the sap is collected will result in a darker maple syrup.
Darker colored syrups are considered to have more “maple flavor” where lighter syrups are sweeter. The terms for the different grades change depending on where you are from, but are generally broken down from light Very light “A Light Amber” to dark “Grade B” or in rare circumstances “Grade C.” Vermont’s grading system has changed as of the first of this year to move to an international standard. Perhaps this will be a trend that will move across US in the coming years. Vermont’s new grading system.
The pictures in this post were taken at Parker’s Maple Barn in Mason, NH. Please support your local sugar house.