One of the joys of living in a rural area is watching the many signs of the changing of the seasons. Living where we do, it isn't just a matter of spring, summer, winter, and fall, for within each of the seasons, myriad changes show the passage of time and the progress of the year.
One of the signs we watch for in early spring is the appearance of maple sap collecting lines, buckets, and holding tanks. The sap ran a little late this year. The maple producers tell us that cold nights and warm days are needed for the sap to run properly; if the temperature doesn't drop enough at night, or rise enough during the day, it just won't happen.
There are three maple syrup operations with a 5-mile radius of our place, each with its own sugar house. Here's the one we visited with our daughter and grandkids:
We went in to have a look at the equipment. This is the evaporator, which uses wood as fuel.
Maple sap starts out at about 2% sugar. By the time the evaporating process is finished, it's 66% sugar (that's set by law in Michigan). It takes about 43 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup.
The sap is boiled down until the desired percentage of sugar is reached. The resulting syrup is poured through a filter, and let me tell you, if you saw what the filter looks like afterward, you'd be mighty glad it IS filtered. The lady of the farm was canning the syrup, sealing variously sized jars and jugs. She offered us samples of the syrup, and naturally we bought some on the spot.
Out back were the storage tanks for the sap. The trees are tapped and tubing carries the sap to the tanks with an assist from a pump. These tanks were once used to hold milk. Recycling the old to meet the needs of the sugar house is common.
While tubing (in the photo below, you can see it in the background) is usually used today to carry the sap from multiple trees to a collection tank, this sugar producer still also puts out about 70 of the old-fashioned buckets. If I'm not mistaken, he's got over 650 maples in his stand. Each tap hole yields about 10 gallons of sap, and many trees have more than one tap hole.
We had fun seeing the operation. And we've got enough maple syrup now to last us the year, even with grandkids who expect pancakes every time they spend a weekend here! (And you know that pancakes are just a vehicle for the syrup.)
Many local producers offer their wares at farmers markets, so please, support them if you can by purchasing local syrup. You'll get a delicious product and help keep a farmer in business.