Uttleystrails.com, Outdoor Stories 

The Maple Syrup Story

The Maple Forest where the Maple Syrup is produced is often referred to as The Sugar Bush.

Real maple syrup!!  It’s one of the things you need to make a Texas waffle house famous, and to make your Sunday morning’s pancakes better than all others.

In the late 1600’s, North American Indians taught the pioneers how to make maple syrup from the maple tree.

The Rock Maple Tree (Acer saccharum) is a Hardwood tree and makes the best and richest tasting maple syrup.  When I was a boy almost all the best furniture and hardwood floors were made of Rock Maple.  Today it is most often called the sugar maple.  The Black Maple tree comes as the next favorite for maple syrup production with not much noticeable difference to the Rock Maple.  The Black Maple tree also makes good furniture. 


Forest areas having different soils will produce maple syrups having slightly, repeat slightly, but distinctly, varying flavors.  It takes forty gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of pancake grade maple syrup, having a sugar content of about 66%.  Raw unprocessed sap right out of the tree has a slight maple taste, but the taste is weak and not pleasing, so nobody does that.  Pure water tastes better. 


Today some folks are talking about harvesting sap from the Manitoba Maple... Unless you are a die-hard survivalist having lots of wood and spare time, and being in desperate need of sugar, forget it, I think the stores still sell Aunt Jemima Pancake Syrup. Manitoba Maple syrup is like having one candle to light the Hockey Arena. It's like going to Germany with water-wings and a handheld electric propeller powered by 1.5 volt AA batteries. 


Using the maple sugar production methods, you can make sugar from the birch tree.   


Once you’ve had real commercial grade maple syrup on pancakes, it’s disappointing to use supermarket pancake syrup made from sugar, water and artificial flavors.


Tapping a maple tree



On those warm spring days, the tree’s sap, being the tree’s food, flows up from the tree's roots, and up the tree trunk under the bark, by means of capillary action.  This begins a new growing year for the tree and the sugary sap is food for another new ring that will grow under the bark this year.


In days of old, natives and pioneers tapped a hole through the maple tree’s bark, and inserted a hollow stick as seen in Photos # 121 (above) and # 144 (below).  The sap would drip from under the bark, through the hollow stick and into the hollow log below.  As evening cooled, the sap under the tree bark froze and did not begin to flow again until tomorrow’s warm sun melted the sap under the tree bark and roots.  In Photo # 144 below, you can see the frozen maple sap in the hollow log.


Tapping a maple tree


Photo # 010 (below) shows a double exposure photograph made with the RB 6x7.  In the first exposure the lid of the galvanized metal collection pail is raised open, showing the metal tree tap, or spigot, with an icicle of frozen sap hanging from the spigot.  In the background you see multiple such collection pails hanging from other maple trees and they were photographed in the second exposure.


Tree tap and collection pail


When nearly filled with sap, pails are emptied into an on-site wood-fired evaporation tray, as seen in Photo R-143-au2 (below).  The galvanized metal sap pails on the trees and the wood fired metal evaporation tray were a typical means to produce maple syrup in the 1950’s, and into the 1970’s.  In the 1950’s and earlier, wooden collection pails were used.




Photo # 122 (below) shows a large galvanized tub that can be filled in the bush and dragged by horse or tractor to an evaporator.


In photo # 120 (below) we see an indoor natural gas stove with a Maple syrup evaporator heating and steaming.  This was another very common means used by many farmers to produce maple syrup in the back kitchen, and very often, the famous old wood-fired kitchen stove was used, because in the 1950’s everybody had one, and the waste heat also heated your house.   Yup, humidity in the house rose, but the stove was hot and enough windows were opened to get rid of the humidity.  Note the hydrometer hanging on the wall on the left side of the stove.  It is used to measure the specific gravity of the evaporating syrup, so you could accurately evaporate enough, but not too much water to bring the maple syrup to the government commercial standard.  Measuring the maple syrup content with a hydrometer is just like measuring antifreeze content in the car radiator coolant, specific gravity.


When sufficient water was been evaporated away and the commercial standard is reached, the valve on the left side of the evaporator is opened to pour the maple syrup through the funnel shaped white cloth filter, filling the pail below with commercial grade maple syrup.  The maple syrup was then bottled, labelled and sold.


The funnel shaped white cloth filter has a fairly fine mesh that effectively removes fine wood smoke, windblown earthen dust and some vegetation.  Note the black dense wood smoke build-up on the cloth filter bag.


Producing the maple syrup


Sometimes, certain desirable types of wood may be used during the evaporation process to very slightly enhance the flavor of the maple syrup, or to avoid burning other types of wood that may instill a slightly undesirable flavor into the maple syrup.  When natural gas is used for the evaporation process, you get the pure, untainted maple flavor. 


In the 1970’s, use of the collection pails hanging on the trees, for the most part, came to an end, as the so-called pipeline systems came into use.  In the pipeline system, plastic tubing was connected to one tree’s spigot, then to the next tree’s spigot, and so on, piping the sap from multiple trees into one collection tub.  This method eliminated much time and labor required to empty the pails and replace them back on the tree.  The Pipeline system also eliminated considerable sap spillage and loss due to overfilling of collection pails before the farmer could get the pails emptied.  On warm days and afternoons, the heat causes sap production from the tree to increase.  On cooler days and mornings, sap production decreases.  Maple sap can only be collected from the trees in the springtime, due to the normal working mechanism of the tree.  Other than the introduction of the pipeline system, today we collect and process maple syrup no differently than our ancestors did. 

Maple syrup was first made by Native Americans hundreds of years ago, and they taught the Settlers how to produce it. Early methods with evolving equipment, as seen in Dennis Uttley's Decorative Photographs, would have been commonly used by maple syrup producers in the 1700s to the Present Day. Read the Maple Syrup Story, Uttleystrails.com


Since the beginning of the maple syrup thing, and into today, maple syrup is and was further evaporated to a dry state, producing pure granular maple sugar, or maple sugar squares, and for me, that was the best.  It was so sweet and flavorful, that children usually didn’t need to be told when they’d had enough.  Another fun thing was to pour very thick hot maple syrup onto clean snow, causing the syrup to cool quickly, producing lava-like hard maple candy.  Then and today, there are many recipes and forms of maple treats and products.


On occasion, I will pour a bit, or maybe a lot of maple syrup into a dish of canned peaches, or into a bowl of Rice Crispies and milk, or into a cup of warm milk, or onto a slice of bread, or into a tea spoon, or just where ever the heck I feel like pouring a decedent bunch of maple syrup.  Kids love it on vanilla ice cream, and when the kids were small, it was necessary to keep reminding them that the word “Adult” was Latin for “Large Kid”.  That made it easy for us to do many fun things together.


It seems that even in the early days, visitors have been attracted to the sugar bush, wanting to see how the maple syrup is collected and processed, and to see and sample the treats.  Going to the sugar bush has been deemed a fun and educational outing, so, through the 1970’s and into the future, some maple syrup producers have added tourism to their business, charging admission fees to provide guided tours for busloads of school kids during the week, and family tours on the weekends.  At the end of the tours, maple sugar products are always available for purchase. 

What's it worth, this maple syrup and candy? The answer is... LOTS !!

In Quebec Canada, Bad Guys committed one of the largest thefts in North America, wherein they stole millions of dollars worth of.... wait for it......  Hundreds of 45 gallon drums of  ... "Yup, Maple Syrup".

Uttleystrails.com, The Maple Syrup Story and Photographs