Tuesday, April 22, 2014

All About Maple Syrup

While spending time in the Keweenaw for Easter, we visited a maple syrup making operation owned and operated by my daughter-in-law's uncle.  I must say that I was extremely impressed.   He has designed, automated, and modernized the sugar bush.

Before I get to describing Mark's incredible creation -- a little bit of history from the web page http://www.mi-maplesyrup.com/Information/info_hist.htm :

When it comes to maple syrup:  it all starts with the sugar maple.  Acer saccharum Marsh. (sugar maple or rock maple) is a species of maple native to the hardwood forests of northeastern North America.

Annual maple syrup production figures from the web page http://www.maplesyrupworld.com/pages/Top-Regions-Producers-of-Maple-Syrup.html are below:

Quebec, Canada:  7, 989,000 gallons
Vermont, USA:  890,000 gallons
Ontario, Canada:  400,000 gallons
New York, USA:  312,000 gallons
Maine, USA: 310,000 gallons
New Brunswick, Canada:  300,000 gallons
Wisconsin, USA:  117,000 gallons
New Hampshire, USA:  87,000 gallons
Michigan, USA:  82, 000 gallons
Ohio, USA:  65,000 gallons
Pennsylvania, USA:  54,000 gallons.
Massachusetts, USA: 29,000 gallons
Nova Scotia, Canada:   22, 000 gallons
Connecticut, USA: 9,000 gallons

To make maple syrup, you must tap and collect the sap from sugar maples. Plant sap is a fluid transported in xylem cells of a plant. The xylem cells transport water and nutrients throughout the plant upward from the roots to the leaves.  It is interesting that scientists do not agree on exactly how trees and other plants do this. Plant sap is not to be confused with latex, resin or cell sap; it is a separate substance, separately produced, and with different components and functions.  The sap of the sugar maple has a sugar content of around two percent.

No one is really sure just how long people have been practicing the art and science of making this wonderful product from the sap of a tree. We do know that Native Americans were already using maple sap to flavor their food long before European settlers discovered its sweetness. One legend states that a chief removed his tomahawk from the trunk of a sugar maple tree, where he had thrown it the night before. As the sun got higher, the sap began to drip from the gash in the tree. The Chief's wife tasted it and discovered that it didn't taste bad, so she used it to cook the meat. Later when the meat was cooked, the sap boiled down to a syrup. The irresistibly sweet scent and taste of the maple meat so delighted the Chief that he named it Sinzibuckwud—a word meaning “drawn from trees.” This became the word used most often by Native Americans when referring to maple syrup.

Another legend is about an Indian woman named Moqua. The story was recounted in the April 1896 issue of The Atlantic Monthly by Vermonter Rowland E. Robinson. The story said that Moqua was cooking a prime cut of moose for her husband, the hunter Woksis. When she became preoccupied with her quill-work and let the pot boil dry she did not have time to melt some snow so she instead added liquid by using some maple sap she had been saving to make a beverage. According to the story, Woksis was so impressed with the meal that he broke the pot so he could lick the last of the “goo” from the pot shards.

Below is a photo of an actual Native American maple syrup storage container.

Maple syrup is made from the xylem sap harvested from sugar maple trees.  A tap is used to access the xylem conduit vessels in the tree.  Originally the taps were made of wood, then metal, with a collection bucket -- and now with tubing and a pump system.

Getting back to Mark's sugar bush -- he has tapped and connected almost 20,000 trees to his pump system.  Yes, all the tree sap flows automatically into a collection shed.  The first picture below shows the pump shed on the right and the black lines feeding into the shed from the maple trees.

Below is a photo showing the lines coming into the pump shed.

The pure tree sap is shown below pouring into one of the collection tanks.

Jericho checking out the collection vessels.  Since the main pump is in this shed -- it was very loud.

This is what Jericho was looking at:  one of the collection tanks.

From the pump shed the sap is pumped to the sugar bush building.  You can see the lines below, as well as the bin of wood chips.  Mark uses these wood chips to fuel the fire that boils the sap down.  He gets the wood chips from a local mill.

Inside the sugar bush building, there is a giant holding tank to store the sap and feed the sap reduction process.

Although the entire operation is impressive, my favorite part is the reverse osmosis machine.  Since it takes 35 to 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup -- most of the work involves removing the water.  Rather than spend the energy to boil all the water out, Mark removes 85 percent  of the water using reverse osmosis.

From the reverse osmosis machine, the somewhat more purified fluids are pumped to the boiling pans.  Natural diatomaceous earth is added to the fluid to collect and remove impurities.  Next, Mark uses three boiling pans and has to watch them carefully to make sure that the syrup does not scorch.  All of this infrastructure Mark has built himself. 

Shown below, Jericho is talking with Mark's son, Brad (Jericho's cousin).  During the time that the sap is flowing, which can last from a week to a few weeks depending on the needed freeze/thaw cycle, sometimes they have to boil to 3 or 4 in the morning. 

There is a peek hole to look at the fire below the boiling pans.

Boiling on this batch is done:  below Mark is draining the syrup from the boiling pan.

The syrup is filtered to remove the diatomaceous earth/impurities.

Then the now purified syrup is drained into drums for storage.

When needed, Mark and his family members fill retail containers.  Mark sells several different sizes, some in fancier jugs and others in canning jars.  I am working on possibly selling Mark's syrup in the museum's gift shop this summer.

Once the sap is pumped into the building, it only takes 20 minutes to reduce it down and drain the purified syrup into the storage drums.  However, each batch is limited so Mark and Brad process batch, after batch, after batch.........

Below is a picture of the sugar bush building from the outside. Yes, in the lower right corner of the photo that is a snow bank.

Thanks to Mark, and his sister, Sandy (Jericho's mother) for the great tour.


No comments:

Post a Comment