Many of us go to a store and see pure maple syrup on the shelf. Inevitably, we wonder why it is more expensive than the store brand or one of the many other commercial brands. The short answer is that it is that much better. The long answer follows, and that is that it is a long and labor intensive process to get the maple sap from the tree and make it into the maple syrup that we put on our pancakes, waffles or ice cream.
The process starts early in the year when spring just begins to make its arrival. This is the time when sugar maples begin to turn stored starches into sugar. This sugar mixes with groundwater (this process is much more scientifically in depth, but that’s the gist). When the sugar maker taps the tree, a watery looking liquid known as maple sap runs into a bucket for the sugar maker to gather. Some more modern sugar makers use a tubing system that actually directs the sap flow to a central gathering point from several taps. This explains the blue tubing that you might see in the woods as winter gives way to spring.
The sap is then collected and boiled down in an evaporator until it becomes the maple syrup that all of us use on our breakfast table. That is why people see plumes of smoke coming from the woods in the early spring and that is the purpose of the sometimes rough looking shacks that seem to appear out of nowhere in the woods. It actually takes 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. That is a lot of boiling! Most sugar makers use wood to stoke the fires to create the heat for this boiling process. That’s a lot of wood chopping throughout the year! More modern sugar makers use propane or natural gas. As you can tell, although making maple syrup is an early spring endeavor, it is a year ‘round commitment on part of the sugar maker.
Unfortunately, not many of us think about the long hours spent in the woods or in the sugarhouse when we’re eating our pancakes on a Saturday morning. Next time you’re in the store debating whether to spend the extra money for pure maple syrup, give a little bit of thought to all of the work that goes into it.