Maple syrup and sugar production predate both the United States of America and the Canadian Federation. Native Americans were the first to discover that sap from maple trees could be processed into maple syrup and sugar. Explorer journals from as early as 1609 mention the Indian process of making maple sugar.
The term “Maple Sugaring” is an expression that has survived since the earliest of times because sugar was the product made instead of syrup. Sugar could be kept in primitive containers more conveniently. Making maple syrup is one of the few agricultural endeavors not brought to this continent by European settlers.
Maple sugaring time varies depending on location. It usually occurs during March and April. This phenomenon of Mother Nature is dictated by weather, not the calendar. Neither a rainy fall, nor deep frost, nor lots of winter snow seem to have any effect on the maple season and syrup production. It is the freezing nights and warm days (but not above 45 degrees) in March and April that make sap flow. During the day when temperatures rise above freezing, positive pressure develops in the tree. This pressure causes sap to flow out through the tap hole in the tree. During cooler periods when the temperature is below freezing, suction (negative pressure) develops and draws water into the tree through its roots. This process replenishes the sap in the tree, allowing it to flow again when the temperature warms once more.
The season can begin in late February and run into early April, with stops in between. No one knows how successful the season will be until it is over. We “predict” our season in May, when sugaring has ended and we know how much syrup was made!
Here at Mapletree Farm, the season typically starts around the first of March and ends during the first week of April. Producers in northern NH are often two to three weeks behind us with their season.
Maple sap, a colorless liquid that looks like water, is about 97.5 percent water, 2.4 percent sugar and 0.1 percent minerals. Sap is made into maple syrup by boiling off the water, concentrating the sugar and minerals. On average, four taps will produce enough sap to make a gallon of syrup during the season. The color and favor of maple syrup are determined by the freshness of the sap and the speed of boiling.
Forty-five gallons of sap with a sugar content of 2 percent will be needed to make just one gallon of syrup. Forty four gallons of water from that sap will be boiled off as steam. With a sugar content of 1 percent, it will take 90 gallons to make one gallon of syrup. That is the reason why you see so much steam rising from the cupola of the sugarhouse. The longer it takes to boil sap to the correct density for syrup, the darker the syrup will be due to caramelizing that takes place during the boiling process.
Maple syrup is graded by color, flavor and clarity. All table syrup is Grade A, and all syrup must be at the correct density to prevent spoiling. Grade A syrup, whether Golden, Amber, Dark or Very Dark, will have the same density. Only the flavor and color will vary in Grade A syrups.
Grade A Golden Delicate Taste is made from early season sap when the sugar content is highest (2.2 – 3%) so the least amount of boiling time is required to obtain syrup density. Golden Delicate Taste syrup is the lightest syrup and has that delicate or mild maple flavor.
Grade A Amber Rich Taste is the most common of Grade A syrups. It is made with average sugar content sap through midseason. This syrup is amber in color and has a richer and more pronounced maple flavor. Amber Rich Taste syrup is most popular for table and all around use.
Grade A Dark Robust Taste has a distinct dark amber color and a more pronounced maple flavor. It is often described as “robust” and is a favorite of many users for both table and cooking purposes. Dark Robust Taste syrup is made from sap that has low sugar content, often in the 1.2-1.6% range.
Grade A Very Dark is the darkest color with a very strong flavor. This is the best grade for cooking. Very Dark syrup is made at the end of the season with sap of very low sugar content. It may take as many as 75-100 gallons of sap to make one gallon of Very Dark syrup.
Pure maple syrup is all natural with are no additives. The sugar content is the same in all maple syrup. Its flavor is attributable to color and flavor, and also attributable to other factors. The other factors can be the location of the sugar bush, the soil conditions, the cleanliness of the equipment used during the evaporation process, the speed of the evaporation process, and the way the syrup is packaged. We keep our equipment meticulously clean to ensure only the purest of maple syrup reaching your table.
Maple syrup as we know it today is the initial finished product made from boiled sap. Additional maple products are made by further processing pure maple syrup by heating, cooling, stirring, and molding. Those products include maple cream, maple candies, granulated sugar (Indian Sugar), and the old-fashioned hard maple sugar or tub sugar. A pure maple product contains only maple syrup and no additives or dairy products.
Properly packaged maple syrup will keep for an extended period of time if left unopened. Once opened the remaining maple syrup must be refrigerated or frozen to ensure freshness. Pure maple syrup will not freeze completely but may be difficult to pour when taken from the freezer. Maple cream should always be refrigerated or frozen.
Maple cream may separate when stored for an extended period, leaving a layer of syrup on top of the cream. A gentle warming and then stirring will restore separated cream to its creamy texture. To restore maple cream, first start by warming the container in warm water or in a microwave set on low temperature. Once warm, simply stir the cream with a spoon to restore. Maple candies usually are eaten before they need refrigeration. Granulated sugar and tub sugar do not need refrigeration.