THE HISTORY AND PRODUCTION OF MAPLE SYRUP
The production of maple sugar and syrup in North America is a tradition going all the way back to Native American groups, and carried on by early French and English settlers. Originally, in the early spring/late winter throughout the Northeast, trees would be gouged or drilled and the sap collected to be boiled into maple syrup or sugar cakes. Although the technology has been modernized significantly since then, the basic method is still the same.
Today, things are done a bit differently. In late February or early March, when the nights are cold and the days warm up, sap begins to "flow" in maple trees. Although there are thirteen species of maple native to North America, and several of those can be used to make syrup, there are only three main species used in maple syrup production today: the sugar maple, black maple, and red maple. Once these trees have reached a proper size of greater than 10 inches in diameter, they can be tapped.
Tapping trees to collect sap is done by drilling a small hole and inserting a spile or hollow tap to allow the sap to flow out of the tree into hanging buckets or plastic tubing lines connected to collection barrels. The watery, slightly maple flavored sap is then boiled to remove the water and leave only the sweet, sugary syrup.
There is a variety of equipment used in the boiling process. The method can be as simple as a few big pots on a stove, large pans over an open outdoor fire, or high-tech hooded evaporators specifically designed to boil and reduce sap into syrup. No matter the equipment the idea is the same. Boil. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to reduce to one gallon of syrup and even the most efficient methods can be very time consuming. Once sap has become syrup it is filtered and can be bottled for sale or consumption, stored for future use, or further heated to make maple candy, butter, or sugar.
Today, the province of Quebec in Canada is by far the largest maple producer, followed by Vermont, and then New York. However, production continues to grow in all of the Northeastern states, including Pennsylvania. In 2013, the Keystone State produced more than 130,000 gallons of maple syrup.