This week at Everlongardener, we will be enjoying the sweetest harvest of all! Pure Maine maple syrup! Every 4th Sunday in March is Maine Maple Sunday. Sugar shacks across the state traditionally open their doors to the public for the event showcasing a unique part of Maine’s agriculture. Participants offer samples of the liquid gold poured over ice cream, tours, demonstrations and plenty of maple products for sale.
The process of making maple syrup starts with drilling a hole in a sugar maple tree and pounding a tap into the hole. Sometimes sap comes running out immediately. A sap bucket or other suitable container is attached to the tap to collect the clear sap. Other maple trees have sap but the sugar content is the highest from the sugar maple. Canada produces 71% of the worlds maple syrup. States such as Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and beyond, all contribute with Vermont leading the way for the U.S. states according to the USDA. A total of 3.78 million gallons were produced in the 2016 season. For more information on sugar houses in your area, go maine.gov.
On Sunday, we decided to make a quick trip to our nearby sap shack. We arrived early to get as close to the experience as possible.
Temps were below freezing that morning so it took a while for the sap to start running through the line and into to evaporator. Hundreds of gallons of sap wait in a holding tank up above. Sap flows down to the shack from the tank through a large pipe.
Once the sap warmed above freezing, the nozzle was attached to the evaporator. An evaporator is what the professionals use to cook down the maple sap. This evaporator can process 160-180 gallons of sap per hour.
Next, the firebox needed to be lit. This particular evaporator runs on wood. The year that this shack produced nearly 600 gallons of syrup, they burned 40 cords of wood. The owner calls the pine that he uses “gopher wood”. You put some in the fire box then you “go for” more!
After lighting the fire, the sap starts to slowly heat up.
If you look close, you can see that the sap is actually slightly frozen on top. The fire beneath the sap begins to heat the liquid. Meanwhile, we asked all kinds of questions about the process. All of the workers were so talkative and helped us get a better understanding of the large-scale production. A little different than our homemade stuff last year!
Then the waiting game started. Slowly the sap started to steam in the evaporator. Plenty of time for conversation, stories and learning.
When the sap hits just the right temperature, it’s time to pour off the finished maple syrup. It can be a delicate process, especially for home processors. Evaporators generally have temperature gauges on the side.
When locals drive by, they know that the sap is cooking. You can see the smoke and steam billowing out of the shack from the main road.
Back up on the porch, we got to try the luscious syrup on ice cream. There are different grades of syrup. Some people like the lighter syrup while we prefer the darker stuff. Sunday they served the darker syrup and it was out of this world! We got to learn about maple cream and how it’s made. It’s a different product made by cooking finished syrup on the kitchen stove to a particular temp then plunging the pot in cold water. The cook must then stir like crazy and hope that the syrup turns to maple cream. It tastes like liquefied maple fudge in a spreadable form. Of course I had to buy some!
We had just made some sugar cookies at home. They were the first thing that we paired with our new maple cream. I highly recommend this combination! Maple syrup can be used for so much more than pancakes and waffles. Syrup can be used for a healthy alternative to sugar by using 2/3 cup to 1 cup of sugar. Maple syrup is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Try it in desserts, baking, glazes, rubs and barbecue sauces. There are tons of recipes at Pure Canada Maple or you can come up with your own. We always treasure our syrup and use it with care. Once you learn the process and find out the cost involved, you can understand why pure maple syrup demands such a high price. Don’t let a drop go to waste!
I really wanted to share our sap shack experience from the other day. I hope that next year you can go visit a shack on Maine Maple Sunday if syrup is made in your area. It’s a great family activity for early spring. It truly is a sweet harvest!
We have more winter weather to get through around here but the snow banks have started to shrink. We are anxiously awaiting our neighbors spring lambs to be born. More seedlings are popping up and finding their home under the grow light. The sun is feeling warmer every day. Soon, I’ll have pictures with more green, living things featured in them! Thanks for coming on our maple syrup adventure! Don’t forget to subscribe for all of my weekly gardening topics and think spring!