In New England, maple sugaring is the first sign that spring is on its way! Maine is one of the very few places where the sap from a maple tree can be tapped and then turned into maple syrup. This is part of what makes Maine and Maine Maple Syrup so special.
Maple sap cannot be harvested just anywhere there are maple trees. Certain weather conditions are necessary in order for the sap to flow properly for harvesting. The required pressure level needed to get the sap flowing is created when the tree freezes and thaws. Thus, warm days and cold nights make for optimum maple sugaring conditions.
When the pressure from a maple tree thawing reaches a certain level, sap is collected. This pressure allows the sap to flow from the small holes that are made to collect the sap.
Most of the sap is still gathered the old-fashioned way, in buckets hung from trees, and boiled down to syrup over wood fires. Many of the larger producers use labor saving modern technology. They gather the sap with plastic tubing strung all the way from the trees, gravity fed to the “sugar house”. Once the sap flows from the tree, the sap must be processed within a few hours or it will spoil, therefore syrup makers work around the clock.
From holding tanks (which may hold as much as a thousand gallons), the freshly collected sap (usually about 3% sugar) is fed continuously into the evaporator. There it is kept constantly boiling as it becomes more concentrated. When the syrup reaches a temperature of 7 degrees above the boiling point of water, the sugar-density is perfect. Immediately, the syrup is filtered to remove particles of “sugar sand.” These, although harmless, would make the syrup cloudy. After it is clear, the finished syrup is packed in sterilized containers and sealed, ready to be enjoyed around the world.
The syrup is sometimes dark and rich, or sometimes pale, gold and delicate. Similar to wine, much depends on the soil composition and terrain, as well as the wind and the weather.
It takes approximately 40 years for a sugar maple tree to reach tapping size. In a good year, one large tree may produce as much as 60 gallons of sap without suffering any injury. That may seem like quite a lot, until you realize that the sap will be reduced to only about 1½ gallons of syrup!
“Maine Maple Sunday” is held every year on the fourth Sunday in March, which is March 28th this year.
This event is when Maine maple producers open their doors to the public to demonstrate maple syrup making. The Maine Maple Producers Association has created an interactive map of participating sugarhouses. Enjoy this experience personally with free samples of maple syrup on ice cream, mini pancakes and muffins, maple candy, door prizes and much more at some of Maine’s best maple syrup producers.
Smell the aroma as boiling sap fills the air and is transformed into sweet Pure Maine Maple Syrup.