Maple Sugar is what the post title refers to as we recently, we took a road trip to Bethlehem, NH for a maple sugaring weekend. The event included a weekend stay at a B&B and demonstrations at The Rocks Estate, a Conservation & Education Center.
We took a horse-drawn wagon ride . . .
And a tractor ride as part of the weekend events. Forgot to mention that this time of year is also known as "mud season."
Mid-February to mid-April is maple sugar time in many parts of New England and Canada. Each year, the NH maple industry alone produces nearly 90,000 gallons of maple syrup.
And, while that seems like a lot of syrup, it's really not. About 40 gallons of sap are boiled down to make 1 gallon of maple syrup, which is usually produced from the xylem sap of sugar, red, or black maple trees. In cold climates, the trees store starch in their trunks and roots before winter; the starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in late winter and early spring.
In late February, NH maple producers tap sugar maples by drilling a small hole through the bark and into the trunk and inserting a spout. As the frozen sap in the maple tree thaws, it begins to move and build up pressure within the tree.
The sap runs into a bucket or plastic tubing fastened to the spout as crystal clear sap drips from the tree. When the internal pressure reaches a certain point, sap will flow from any fresh wound in the tree. Freezing nights and sunny days create the pressure needed for a good sap harvest.
The number of times one tree can be tapped is based on its diameter, health and growth rate. Any maple tree 8 inches (or more) in diameter can be tapped. Larger trees can be tapped more than once a season (3 taps maximum). The regulations ensure that tapping doesn't affect growth of the trees. A hole must be drilled in a new location each year; the natural healing process of trees is called walling-off.
After harvesting, the sap is transported to a sugar house and boiled down to maple syrup over a blazing fire. Storage tank pipes feed sap to a long and narrow ridged pan — the evaporator. As it boils, the water evaporates leaving a concentrated syrup, that becomes denser and sweeter. About 10.5 gallons of sap boil down to .25 gallons or one quart of pure maple syrup. When the maple syrup reaches the right density to be classified as syrup, it's drawn from the evaporator, filtered, graded, and bottled.
For other maple products (taffy, sugar, etc.), the syrup is boiled longer in the evaporator to the temperature needed. After evaporation, the finished products are bottled or canned, then shipped.
Maple syrup is graded according to specified U.S. and Canadian scales based on its density and translucency.
This was an informative weekend excursion and we learned a lot about the production of maple syrup.
We really enjoy it, not only on pancakes, but we've also been using it in pork and fish recipes.
One of the recipes we saw prepared by a local chef was a balsamic-maple pork tenderloin.
This one will be on our dinner menu in the next week or so. The taste sampling was so good (trust me).