Station 13:
Maple Sugaring

It is said that a Native American woman became tired of going to the local watering hole to gather water for cooking meals.  She noticed that in the late winter and early spring water was flowing from a wound in a maple tree so she began to gather it with a bucket.  After cooking with this water she realized that her food was very sweet, so out of curiosity she boiled the water until it became a thick liquid.  Thus, maple syrup was discovered.

Originally maple syrup production consisted of hollowing out a log, filling it with maple sap, and then placing hot rocks in it until the water evaporated out of it yielding maple syrup.  Since then, there have been many advancements in the production of maple syrup.  However, it still remains a very tedious and time consuming adventure.


How to identify a sugar maple tree.

Maple syrup is made by concentrating the slightly sweet sap of the sugar maple tree.  Sap is collected in late winter/early spring.  However, the time at which the "sap is running" is not set by the calendar.  For the sap to be running sufficiently for trees to be tapped, the temperature must be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day.  Once the sap begins to flow, sugarmakers go to work. 
Trees are tapped by drilling holes 7/16 of an inch in diameter and approximately 3 inches deep into the tree.  Once holes are drilled, spiles, or tubing taps, are placed in
the tree.  Buckets hanging off of a small hook on the spiles catch the dripping sap.  Tubing runs the sap from multiple trees downhill to a collection area.  Sap flow can be very irregular depending on the weather.  Cold weather could shut down maple syrup production for several days, while unseasonable warm spells could shut down the production for a season.



Sap from a sugar maple tree contains only about two to three percent sugar and 97-98 percent water.  Maple syrup on the other hand contains 67 percent sugar and 33 percent water.  Once a quantity of sap is collected, it is time to begin removing the

water.  This is done in an evaporator.  The evaporator that Keystone College operates contains two pans that sit atop a firebox.  Wood is fed into the front of the firebox and the flames are drawn across the pans by a draft.  The firebox is lined with firebrick allowing for a more regular temperature in the boiling process.  As the sap boils and becomes more concentrated with sugar it begins to develop a density gradient with the most concentrated sap/syrup ending up in the front pan.  Once the syrup in the front pan reaches a temperature that is seven degrees above boiling, it is drawn off into a bucket.  Remember, the boiling point of water is not always 212 oF.  It slightly varies as a reflection of the atmospheric pressure.

Keystone College's Sugar Shack




The syrup is then heated in a propane fired finishing pan until the desired temperature and density is reached.  The syrup is then run through a filter press to remove the impurities.  After filtration the syrup is reheated to kill off any potential bacteria and bottled at a high temperature.  The syrup is now ready to top your pancakes!

Pure maple syrup is relatively expensive as a result of the labor and energy it takes to produce.  Usually over 30 gallons of sap is required to produce one gallon of maple syrup, although, it can range from 30 to 90 gallons.  Give it a try on your home stove and see how much syrup you get!


NEW - Click here to view Maple Sugaring on Keystone's Woodland Campus!


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