Maple sugar is a wonderful thing. It’s sweet and succulent. Once you try maple syrup on pancakes you never go back. The great thing is that it doesn’t stop there, you can get maple butter, maple sugar, maple candy and many other variations on a great original product.
One of my earliest memories if going over to our neighbors house after he had all his trees taped and collecting sap. We took it all home and tossed it in a giant pot on the BBQ and boiled it down into what seemed like nothing compared to what we started with. But then you go and have a taste and you realize all the work is worth it. There is no taste like maple syrup that you have ever experienced. It’s hard to believe that anything can be sweeter than sugar, but it no doubt is.
Now if I want an experience like that I need to go to my grandfathers cottage and see the sugar shack that my uncle Robin has set up. There is an amazing network of tubes and pipes running through the forest draining a steady stream of sap into the boiler during the spring. The amount of liquid that one little tree can produce is almost unimaginable.
The great thing about maple sap, as I alluded to before, if you can dream it you can probably make it. I’ve had pasta with maple syrup. I’ve had candy made from maple sap. Anything you put sugar in you can put maple sap in. People all over the world cook with North American maple syrup. It’s a great way to cut the highly refined and genetically altered traditional white sugar.
The properties of this wonderful liquid were discovered centuries ago by the Native Americans. Lore has it that someone’s tomahawk lodged itself into a maple tree and when it was pulled out a flood of sap came fourth. They originally thought it was just water, but when they boiled it they discovered it’s true sweet properties. This small act has grown into a worldwide phenomenon.
How to Tap a Maple Tree
Maple trees usually take at least 40 years to go larger than 12 inches in diameter, the ideal size of the maple tree for tapping. The best months for tapping is toward the end of February until April, when the temperate starts to alternate from freezing to thawing.
The sap is frozen throughout winter and starts to thaw and flow as the weather grow warmer. Sugarmakers starts to make rounds of their “sugar woods” or their groove of maple trees to start their tapping this harvest season. Tapping is done by drilling one to five centimeter holes into the trunk of the maple tree. A “tap” of plastic or metal is inserted into the trunk to act as a faucet where the sap will flow from the tree to the sap container.
Depending on the size and strength of the three, each tree can be fitted with as many as two to three taps at a time. Boring too many taps that a tree can handle can shorten the life of the maple tree. Tapholes usually heal in a year or two, and new tapholes should be drilled in each season.
Sugarmakers collect their sap in two ways. One is to hang a bucket under each of the taps and make rounds at least once a day to empty each bucket and transfer its contents into a big tank on a sled.
The other method that was very popular in the 1960s requires the sugarmaker to attach plastic tubing to each tap to form a network of taps. The sap will flow from this network of tubes into the large storage tank at the sugarhouse.
What Are Sugar Maple Trees?
Sugar Maple trees (Acer saccharum) is possibly the most abundant of the seven species of maple in Northern America and Canada, particularly in Nova Scotia, Ontario. These are also the trees that produce maple syrup and good quality timber. It is also New York’s official state tree, and the sugar maple leaf is the official symbol of Canada.
The Sugar Maple tree has six species. They grow on steep, rich soil and survive even long and bitter winters that are very characteristic in the northern provinces of Canada and the United States. Sugar Maple trees also has a picture-perfect scenery during the fall with its leaves turning from green to bright yellow to orange and to red-orange, and finally to red.
The Sugar Maple is the best specie of maple tree that produce the best quality sap used in maple syrup and other maple-based products. Its sap contains about 2% sugar, and if tapped properly, a single Sugar Maple tree can give about 12 liters of sap a day. Maple “harvest” season lasts for about 6 weeks and a Sugar Maple can yield 35-50 liters of sap a season. It will in turn produce 1 to 1.5 liters of pure, high grade maple syrup.
A Sugar Maple tree can reach a tap-ready size in 40 years and will continue to yield high quality sap for about a century, if given proper care. Sugar Maples are also known for its ornamental shade and its high quality timber is used to produce fine pieces of furniture.