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All About Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup & Sugaring in Pennsylvania

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The production of maple syrup, or sugaring, hasn't changed much since the time of the Indians. Maple syrup comes from the boiled down sap of the sugar maple tree. Each year in early spring, maple producers, also called "sugarmakers," head to their woods for the start of maple syrup season which generally lasts from mid-February to early April. Maple producers "tap," or drill a small hole into the trunk of a tree and then insert a spout or spile to catch the sap that begins to collect in the hole. The spout is then be connected to a bucket, or to plastic tubing stretching through the woods, to collect the dripping sap.

Making the Syrup
Sap straight from the sugar maple tree is about 98 percent water and two percent sugar, other nutrients, and minerals. To make pure maple syrup, the sap needs to be boiled to evaporate a lot of the water away. Maple syrup is approximately 33 percent water and 67 percent sugar.

The sap starts to "run" or flow out of the holes when the weather is just right. Sugarmakers like cold nights (with temperatures below freezing) and warm days (with temperatures above freezing) for best sap flow. Once the sap starts collecting in the buckets it needs to be processed right away.

Sugarmakers use evaporators to make maple syrup. An evaporator consists of two or more large, specially designed pans that are filled with sap. These pans sit over a fire of burning wood or some other fuel, which heats the sap and causes it to boil. As it boils, some of the water in the sap turns to steam, which rises out of the sugarhouse. The sap becomes thicker and sweeter.

The sugarmaker has to watch the boiling sap very carefully because it could easily burn in the evaporator. As the sap thickens, it gets hotter. The sugarmaker knows the maple syrup is ready when its temperature reaches seven degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water. This process requires a lot of time and energy, because it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of pure maple syrup! Once the maple syrup is thick enough, it is filtered to take out "sugar sand," which accumulates as sap boils. Sugar sand is just minerals and nutrients that concentrate as the excess water is boiled away. If it is not filtered out, the maple syrup will appear cloudy.

The Final Product
After the maple syrup is filtered, it is put into containers for sale, or made into other tasty maple treats like maple sugar, maple candy, maple cream, and even maple jelly. Pure maple syrup is great on pancakes, waffles, or French toast. You can also enjoy it on vanilla ice cream, steamed rice and vegetables, or other foods. It's a pure, all-natural product from Pennsylvania's woods.

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