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Maple Syrup Production

Production in the 19th century



The ancient spout was made of cedar wood. It was called a “reed” (dripper). Made from a bevel cut, it was inserted in the tap hole. Even though horses were used more often than in the previous centuries, the syrup maker still had to put on his snowshoes to gather the maple water in buckets. When enough water was collected, it was brought to the “sugar house” for boiling. This way, maple syrup, diluted syrup, maple taffy or hard maple sugar was made. The latter was commonly called “country sugar”

Another custom right from home, the manufacture of sugar moulds. These are popular genuine works of art and the Quebec Museum of Civilization possesses a superb collection of more than 100 models. Handmade and transmitted from generation to generation, they were sculpted in a hard maple wood, cherry or walnut, often in one section or sometimes in several sections. They represented the universe of families and farmers of this era and are a part of Québec’s historic heritage.

From the 20th century to today

Since maple operations are bigger and gathering techniques more refined, it is sometimes necessary to collect the water (sap) two or three times a day. Certain types of equipment must be adapted to these new production requirements. Wooden buckets are replaced with aluminum ones. The sugar house of the time is also transformed. The heavy iron kettle is replaced by the evaporator that contains a thermometer, a float to control the level and input of maple water and a hood to evacuate the steam. In the mid 70’s, technology was introduced into the maple syrup industry with the invention of sap-collection systems installed ion Québec’s sugar houses. These blue plastic tubes replaced buckets, barrels, horses and tractors. With a vacuum pump, the maple water goes directly from the tree to the maple syrup storage tank. Every spout is connected to this system and the gathering process is automatically activated when the temperature rises enough for the sap to flow. The reverse osmosis technique introduced in the 1980’s is another technological revolution. The use of reverse osmosis membrane to partially concentrate the maple water respects the maple syrup industry regulations since it is not related to the refining. This technique concentrates the soluble elements contained in maple water and is considered an adequate substitute to evaporation. This technological innovation reduces production costs and minimizes the work hours of family members of maple syrup producers. It does not alter the taste and characteristics that has been appreciated for the past centuries

Production Process

The maple sap mystique

Sap from maple trees is thin, barely sweet, and as clear as melted snow in spring. The distinctive maple taste emerges only after the sap is boiled.  There’s an element of mystery to sap and its sugar content. Each fall, trees produce starch that helps protect their roots from freezing during winter. When the snow melts, water penetrates the roots and this sugared water begins circulating within the tree in preparation for the growing season.  The spring thaw causes the wood of the tree to expand, which puts the water trapped in the sap wood under pressure. If just one hole is made in the bark, the sap will run forth. This stage lasts until the tree’s buds leaf out, generally from March to April.  The ideal conditions for harvesting sap consist of a stretch of warm days with below-freezing temperatures at night. 

 

Tapping

The maple producer taps a tree by using a drill to make a hole 1 cm in diameter and 5 cm deep. A maple tree can be tapped in more than one spot. However, making multiple holes in a maple is not recommended if its trunk is less than 25 cm in diameter. After tapping the tree, the producer inserts a tap so the sap can run into a bucket.

It’s important to realize that tapping doesn’t affect the health of the tree. After the sap harvest, a long, slender vertical scar appears where the tap was. However, the outer bark is no longer alive so the hole will close up in two or three years, as the tree grows around the wound. Maples may live to be almost 200 years old.

 

Gathering sap

Maple producers traditionally gathered sap by hand, using metal buckets and horse-drawn sleds that transported the sap to their sugar shacks.

Today, elaborate tubing systems connect each tree in a sugarbush, conducting sap directly to the sugar shack.

 

Partial sap concentration by reverse osmosis

Many maple producers use partial reverse osmosis units that let them increase the amount of sugar in the sap, thus reducing the time it needs to be boiled.

 

Sap evaporation

Sap is boiled in metal vats, or evaporators, until it turns into syrup. It has to be boiled the same day that it is harvested, so maple producers must keep steady fires going constantly to obtain good maple syrup. On average, it takes about 32 liters of maple sap to produce one liter of maple syrup.

Sap must be boiled to evaporate its water content and concentrate its sugar content.

As sap boils, it goes through a complex series of chemical reactions that create the unique maple syrup color and flavor.

Sap is transformed into syrup when it reaches a temperature of 104° C (219.2° F).

 

Syrup filtration

Before syrup is bottled or used for other products, it must be filtered to remove any impurities. There are two filtration methods, one involving gravity and felt filters and the other is a filter press operated under pressure.



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