How many gallons of sap does it take to make one gallon of maple syrup? How many gallons of maple syrup did Vermont maple producers make last season? Ever been curious what it takes to get the syrup from the tree to your pancakes?
A Vermont tradition that has been passed down the generations, maple, it seems, flows in the veins of many Vermonters. But how does it make it from the tree to your favorite buttermilk pancakes? A lot of work, patience, and dedication. You may be surprised to find out that maple isn’t just a springtime hobby for some families but a year-round job.
Just before the beginning of the season, sugarmakers start to responsibly tap maples. They are very selective on which trees they choose to tap; a tree needs to be at least 10 to 12 inches in diameter to receive a single spout. Larger trees can have multiple spouts in them. Once Mother Nature starts to go into a freezing and thawing pattern, the pressure rises in the trees and the sap starts to flow. The sap is collected to a central collection area. The iconic metal buckets, while still used, are not the only way the sap to the sugar shack. Many producers use tubing that connects many trees to a single line that goes straight to the shack.
Some sugar makers use reverse osmosis to remove some of the water from the sap before boiling. This cuts down on the amount of time the sap needs to be boiled which can lead to a larger yield in a shorter amount of time. Next, the sap is transferred to an evaporator to be boiled. This is where you get your first whiff of that sweet maple-scented steam (and neighbors swing by because they start smelling it too). It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of maple syrup. But this can vary based on the density of the sap. As the water evaporates, the sap starts to thicken and caramelizes to look more like the maple syrup we all know and enjoy. Once the bubbling syrup hits 219 degrees, it’s ready to be drawn off the evaporator. It’s then filtered, graded for flavor and color and packaged. Or, if there is a good bit of snow around, you get to scoop up some and put hot syrup over the top and enjoy the Vermont tradition of Sugar on Snow (don’t forget the raised donuts!). If you have never experienced Sugar on Snow before, visit your local sugarhouse during the Vermont Maple Open House weekend. You will not be disappointed. Once the weather starts to stay consistently warm, the sugaring season is over. Producers pull their taps, clean the equipment and get ready to sell the fruits of their labor.
In 2017, Vermonters produced 46% of all the maple syrup production in the United States and 8% internationally with 1.98 million gallons of the sweet stuff. In 2015, Vermont sugar makers adopted the International Grading Standards for grading the syrup they produce. Fancy became Golden Delicate, Medium Amber became Amber Rich, Grade B became Dark Robust, and Grade C/Commercial became Very Dark Strong.
I’d like to take the closing of this post to thank Terry Libby, Kevin Marshia, and the entire Libby/Marshia family of the Libbyland Sugarhouse in Chelsea, VT for allowing me to chat with them as they worked and take photos for this post. It was an amazing experience that I am thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of. Below is a photo of Terry holding a bucket that has been used to record the number of taps and gallons produced by the Libby family since 1972.