"How sweet it is!" says Phyllis Wright,
retired Warren County Extension Agent. Pennsylvania Maple syrup has been a
favorite gift from Warren County travelers to present to their - round the
world business colleagues; and a great remembrance for family members living
away from Northwestern Pennsylvania. The locally produced high quality
syrup, plus it's versatility in meal preparation and other special maple
treats products, make it a unique part of Warren County.
The following text is copied from "From the Woods:
Maple Syrup - A Taste of Nature", a publication of Penn State
College of Agricultural Sciences.
Syrup: A Taste of Nature
There are many different kinds of trees in Pennsylvania’s
forests, but the sweetest tree in Pennsylvania is the sugar maple. The sap
from this tree is used to make pure maple syrup. Sugar maple trees are
unique to North America and grow naturally only in the northeastern United
States and southeastern Canada. This makes maple syrup a very special
product we get from Pennsylvania forests.
HOW IT STARTED
American Indians first discovered how to make maple syrup
many years ago. They collected the sap in containers made from birch bark.
They boiled it by filling a hollowed- out log with sap, then putting hot
rocks into it. The American Indians did not have a way to store the sticky
liquid maple syrup very well, so they boiled the syrup a little longer to
make maple sugar. They used maple sugar to sweeten their food and added it
to cold water for a sweet summer drink. When the first Europeans came to
North America, the American Indians taught them about making maple syrup. As
time passed, the method of making maple syrup improved, but the basic
process remained the same. The annual tradition of making maple syrup has
been a part of Pennsylvania’s history for well over 200 years.
MAPLE SUGARING BASICS
In early spring each year, maple producers, also called
“sugar makers,” throughout Pennsylvania head to their woods for the start of
the maple syrup season. Generally, the maple season lasts from mid-February
to early April. Maple producers drill a small hole into the trunk of the
tree. This is called tapping. They insert a small spout or spile to catch
the sap that begins to collect in the hole. The spout may connect to plastic
pipes stretching through the woods, called tubing, or to a bucket to collect
the dripping sap.
THE MAGIC TREE
The sugar maple tree is the natural resource used to make
maple syrup, and maple producers need to take good care of these trees. They
wait until sugar maple trees are about 10 inches in diameter (20 to 40 years
old) before they start tapping them. They also limit the number of taps they
put in one tree according to the size of the tree, so that it will not be
damaged. Tapping maple trees properly does not affect tree health. However,
a small amount of wood damage does occur in the tree. The sap collected is
only a small fraction of the total amount of sap in the tree. The small hole
drilled into the tree usually heals within one or two years. If the maple
trees are taken care of properly, the same tree can be tapped year after
MAKING THE SYRUP
Sap from the sugar maple tree is about 98 percent water
and 2 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 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) so the sap will flow. Once the sap starts
collecting in the buckets or flowing through the tubing, 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 into
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 that the maple syrup is ready when its temperature
reaches 7 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! The boiling sap is tested with
precise instruments to determine if it is maple syrup. If it is thick enough
to be maple syrup, it is filtered to take out "sugar sand," which
accumulates as the 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 in a
container for sale, or made into other tasty maple treats. Many maple
producers process their maple syrup into maple sugar, maple candy, maple
cream, and even maple jelly. Pure maple syrup and other maple products have
no additives, preservatives, or artificial colors. It’s all natural, and
some people even call it a "taste of nature." Pure maple syrup is great on
pancakes, waffles, and French toast. You can also enjoy it on vanilla ice
cream, on steamed rice and vegetables, or other foods. It is a pure,
all-natural product from Pennsylvania’s woods
Prepared by Anni Davenport, former extension assistant in forest
resources; Sanford Smith, natural resources and youth specialist; and Roy
Adams, former associate professor of wood products. Support for the printing
of this document was provided by the
U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,
and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.
This publication is available from the Publications
Distribution Center, The Pennsylvania State University, 112 Agricultural
Administration Building, University Park, PA 16802. For information
telephone (814) 865-6713.