You might think that maple sap flows from the sugar maple as the thick, beautiful, robust syrup that you readily find at farmer’s markets, but if you saw maple sap in its original form, you might not even recognize it! It takes about 40-50 gallons of fresh maple sap to create 1 gallon of ready to enjoy maple syrup. When maple sap is first harvested from the sugar maple, it merely looks like sugar water.
Basics of How Maple Syrup
For hundreds of years, the process of condensing maple syrup involved slowly boiling the sap in a pan over a fire until most the water in the sap evaporated into the air. Leaving behind the thick maple syrup we love to pour on our pancakes. Today, many businesses are using reverse osmosis to condense maple syrup. Other helpful changes have been made along the way too.
If you went to a maple sugaring farm 40 years ago, you would see sugar maples with a simple bucket hanging from the tap. However, if you had acres of land with 15,000 sugar maples—that’s a lot of buckets! Today, many maple sap
producers connect trees from tap to tap, by thick tubing, gradually leading downhill to a huge collection tank. This gravity-fed arrangement makes it much easier when it comes to maple sap harvesting.
Maple Harvesting Can be a Sticky Situation
Even though the maple syrup industry is growing, and it is becoming easier to collect and produce; relying on income from a sap farm can be a leap of faith. The entire process of collecting maple syrup depends on the weather, and because of this, the overall yield can be unpredictable. For instance, the maple season only lasts for a short two and a half months in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Depending on the weather, it can be as short as a few weeks, or not happen at all! Maple sap harvesters look forward to the early spring months where temperatures freeze at night and thaw during the day. This cycle creates the pressure needed to build and flow sap up and out through the tap. Maple harvesters have to move fast! Once collected, the boiling process can’t be put on hold, because the sap holds a lot of water—it will spoil quickly and go to waste!
Hints of Maple in Appalachia
Maple syrup has been a part of Appalachian culture since the Native Americans lived within the mountains and it is said to have been one of the Cherokee’s most favored sweeteners. You can also see the influence this sweet sap had in communities by discovering early spring maple sugaring demonstrations, road names like, “Maple Hill Drive,” long-standing family recipes, and other cherished traditions. Maple sap harvesting has made a deep impact on the Appalachian Mountains, and its culture. In the past, when jobs were scarce, and transportation wasn’t easy, sugaring provided jobs and offered income to mountain folk with not much more than their land. Appalachian herbalists also used maple syrup. Try making your own cold remedy by using this recipe and substituting honey with maple syrup instead.
Visit Brady’s Run Festival Near Pittsburgh
One event you don’t want to miss is the 42nd Annual Maple Syrup Festival in Brady’s Run Park, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. This two-day event offers plenty of family fun activities, like all-you-can-eat pancakes, live entertainment, handmade Appalachian crafts, pony-rides, and more. Plus, it’s under an hour ride from Pittsburgh! Their maple syrup is made right there at Brady’s Run Park—for the freshest maple syrup you will ever taste! If you attend—be sure to tag us in your photos on social media and add #gotmountainlife!