Many people travel to see the dramatic fall foliage of the northeastern states beginning late September in the northern New England states, spreading down into southern New England through late October. While the trees put on a breathtaking exhibition, the leaves of the sugar maple deliver the greatest color show, spanning several shades of green, then moving to yellow and orange, ending with an amazing display of red.

The maple’s show is not yet complete. When the curtain descends on the tree’s fall performance, it loses its leaves and moves into slumber, preparing for next season’s growth. As winter wanes and gives way to spring, a whole new group of people respond to the maple’s next seasonal spectacle. Independent wild foodists, homesteaders, small businesses and large corporations tap into the time-honored tradition of converting the maple tree’s sap into syrup.

Turning Sap into Syrup

Many species of trees are tapped for their sap, but the higher sugar content of the maple, especially the sugar maple, makes them especially appealing. The simple process used by the Native American people to harvest the sap is still used by many today. Although the materials have changed, some “sugar makers” still use buckets hung over pegged holes. Every day or so, buckets must be emptied and taken to a “sugarhouse” or “sugarshack” typically built in the woods close by. Here the sap is boiled over wood fires to evaporate water, thus creating syrup.

For over 200 years, the idyllic process of making maple syrup remained just as the Native Americans had shown the early settlers. But in the 1970s, things began to change. Tubing systems were set up to transport the sap into large vats. Many sugar makers further increase their yields by using vacuum systems to suck the sap from the trees. Some water is removed using reverse osmosis filters, and the rest is boiled away in large oil-fueled furnaces. Although syrup collection and creation has been revolutionized, the process essentially remains the same – collect sap and reduce to syrup.

Fun Facts About Maple Syrup

  • The early settlers found that syrup quickly spoiled; therefore, they reduced the syrup even further to create sugar. The hardened sugar was easier to store and didn’t spoil.
  • Maple syrup grades are based on color and flavor, not quality.
  • In 2013, the average price per gallon of maple syrup in Massachusetts was $59.10. When the weather causes the sugaring season to be especially short, the price can spike well over $80 in some areas.
  • Seventy-one percent of the world’s maple syrup comes from the Canadian province of Quebec.
  • A 600-pound barrel of grade A maple syrup commands a hefty price of $1650 USD. Pound for pound, that is almost 20 times the cost of today’s crude oil.
  • Trees must be at least 40 years old and at least twelve inches in diameter before being tapped.
  • It takes four 40-year-old maples more than six weeks to produce 35-40 gallons of maple sap, which will be cooked down to make only one gallon of maple syrup!
  • Sap is composed of 98 percent water.
  • Ten gallons of sap will make just one quart of syrup when the water is boiled out. That’s a lot of steam, which is why most boiling is done outdoors in the woods in “sugar shacks” close to the harvest site.
  • Although most syrup is produced in the northern United States and Canada, sap can be collected as far south as Tennessee.
  • The sap won’t run unless temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise above freezing during the day. When the trees begin to bud, or when temperatures remain above freezing, sugaring is over. The sap collected after this will produce a bitter syrup.

Check Out the Maples in Massachusetts

Are you looking for ways to enjoy the maples in Massachusetts? You can plan to visit a sugarhouse to see the syrup making process firsthand or take a drive to see the gorgeous fall colors. Between the tree’s seasonal performances, you can enjoy a picnic lunch beneath its graceful foliage. We hope you will stop by and see the maples at The Overlook in Charlton. Please contact us for more information about our independent living, assisted living or memory care programs.