Why real maple syrup is worth every extra penny
– even when my daughter bathes in it.
After turning off the grill, I sat down triumphantly. I was thrilled to actually get to eat breakfast sitting down with the children and not after them, or while still standing. Then, I looked over at my daughter’s plate. A rather soggy pancake was submerged in a lake of really expensive real
maple syrup. Sigh! What can I say, I have to give her credit for actually drinking most of the syrup off her plate after eating her drunken pancake. She even used some of the left over syrup to glue together some artwork together and style her hair. That being said the events of that morning compelled me to teach her to respect the liquid gold that the proud maple trees, much like those in the woods behind our home, had produced.
So, I quickly decided that we were going to learn, as a family, how maple syrup was made. We live right next to conservation land, where they actually collect maple sap for syrup, so learning about it was easier than I expected.
Although often considered something that only happens above the Mason-Dixon line, maple syrup can be produced anywhere as long as the maples are exposed to weather that encourages the trees to store sugars in the form of starches before the coming of winter – those sugars then accumulate in the post-winter sap. The trees must be tapped with a special drill to allow sap to be released from the tree. This process sounds simple; however, maple syrup sap can only be collected when the weather conditions are just right. The temperature has to be around 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and around 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The sap flows into a bucket or a tube system for collection. Our first attempt to see how sap is collected was delayed by a harsh change in the weather. In our neck of the woods, collecting the sap required trudging through several feet of snow to get at the buckets. Then the buckets were emptied into large collecting tanks and hauled off to a sugar shack.
The next step in the process was the “boiling off”. The sap is not naturally heavy like maple syrup – it splashes around like water because it is made of mostly water. To get the maple syrup we know and love, it needs to be boiled so that the water in the sap evaporates leaving the sugary sweet and denser liquid. The evaporators used to boil the syrup are often fueled by a roaring wood fire that requires constant attention. The children and I were fascinated by the sights and smells of the sugar shack – the intense fire was enthralling and there were soft clouds of steam rising up from the boiling sap. The clouds actually drizzled little drops of water down on our heads. The smell was sweet heaven! We learned that the sap moves through the evaporator chambers as it becomes denser. At the sugar house we visited after the evaporator does its work the nascent syrup was filtered and then boiled again. It took the hardworking folks a whole day to boil down the sap to make syrup. It takes around 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup! That is a lot of buckets full of sap to collect!
I could go on and discuss the strengths and grades of syrup or multiple uses of sap, but it is better for you to head to a local sugar shack. Once you and your gang are ensconced in maple steam, you too will be willing to pay more for the good stuff – just be sure not to let anyone under the age of 15 pour it!
Even if you missed some of the local events in the DC area, remember there is always next year and thePennsylvania Maple Festival starts this Saturday and runs through April 3!
Colvin Run Mill here in Great falls. VA ( Fairfax County park) has a maple syrup boil down that we have been to in the past. I believe it is free and gives you a local opportunity to experience the real thing. Unfortunately the maple trees are already budding , signifying that the tree tapping time is over for this year in our area but be sure to check it out next year!
Clearly real maple syrup is better than the fake stuff we often buy. It is high in zinc and manganese which both have numerous health benefits. I should; however, also say that despite maple syrup being natural, remember it is still a simple sugar so use the tasty stuff in moderation (it is not diabetes friendly and simple sugars are linked to obesity).
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