All Things Maple

Collection Tubes into Holding Tank in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Collection Tubes into Holding Tank (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Those in the Northeastern U.S. during February and March may be wondering: “What are those tubes winding through the woods from tree to tree?”  As part of a quintessential New England tradition, the tubes are collecting sap from maple trees to create a series of treats; such as maple syrup, maple candy and maple cream.  From February through March, if temperatures cooperate (freezing nights, warmer days), the clear liquid will flow freely, providing an ample supply for all of our local sugarmakers.  Our native sugar maple, Acer saccharum, is the tree of choice in New England, and they must have adequate girth (11 inch diameter, approximately a 40 year old tree) to be suitable for collecting.  Because the opportunity to collect sap is such a short period, efficiency is the key to receiving a good quantity of this precious liquid.

Maple Syrup Collecting by Tube in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Maple Syrup Collecting by Tube (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

There are two ways to collect sap: either by bucket and spout or the tubing method.  With the bucket, each pail is checked and emptied as needed.  The tubing is usually set up to run downhill to a holding tank. Some sugarmakers enlist the help of a vacuum system to stimulate flow from the tree, as this may increase yield substantially.  To make collecting easier, some sugarhouses are built at the base of producing trees, so tubing brings the sap directly into the sugarhouse.

Evaporator & Filtration System at Great Brook Sugarhouse in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Evaporator & Filtration System at Great Brook Sugarhouse (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Once sap is removed from the host trees, it should be evaporated (boiled) quickly to prevent fermenting.  Boiling is done in an evaporator pan designed for this purpose, while resting on a firebox called an arch.  Arches can either be wood fired, or use alternatives like oil, natural gas or propane.  It is sometimes necessary to keep the fire burning around the clock to ensure the process is completed.  When the sap has become the accepted density, it must be filtered and the color graded before packaging.  Larger facilities use a high pressure filtration system to remove a large percentage of water before entering the evaporator, a process that saves time and effort.

Maple Syrup Display in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Maple Syrup Display at Great Brook Sugarhouse (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

There are four grades for syrup, even though they are made by the same process and contain the same amount of sugar.  Grade A Light Amber is the lightest colored with the most subtle taste, Grade A Medium Amber is the most popular with its classic maple flavor, Grade A Darker Amber has a richer flavor, and Grade B is the darkest syrup with the most intense flavor.  No grade is better than another, but rather it is a matter of personal preference.

Connecticut Maple Syrup Sign in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Connecticut Maple Syrup Sign (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

For a wealth of detailed information on the Who, What and Where of the maple syrup industry in Connecticut, look no further than the Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut, Inc., (MSPAC for short), a nonprofit, 501(c)(5) organization of individuals bound together by their common interest in sugaring for fun and profit.  On the MSPAC website, , you will be introduced to many prominent local maple syrup producers, such as Oliver “Buster” Scranton, of Maple Grove Farm in North Guilford, Connecticut, Rob Lamothe, of Lamothe’s Sugarhouse, Burlington, Connecticut, and the President of MSPAC, Mark Harran, who is a passionate crusader for maintaining the quality standards of maple syrup produced in Connecticut.

Be sure to partake of this time-honored New England heritage while it’s available. Support your local sugarmakers and enjoy a taste of tradition at the same time.  What could be sweeter?

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