Our Maple Syrup Making Process
The Basic Maple Syrup Making Process...
When spring days get above freezing, the sap begins to flow from the sugar maple trees. Sap flows best when the temperature is below freezing at night, then thaws during the day. In Northern Michigan, the main sap flow usually occurs during March. The sap is collected, then boiled down in an evaporator. When it reaches the perfect temperature, it is drawn off, filtered and bottled.
The flavor and color of the maple syrup can change dramatically throughout the season. The first sap produces syrup that is very light in flavor and color. Mid-season syrup is more flavorful and is a rich amber color. Late-season syrup can become a deep brown and has a very strong flavor that is great for use in cooking.
The Harwood Heritage Gold Process...
The Parsons family has tapped the maple trees surrounding Michigan's Harwood Lake every spring since the late 1800's. Tapping the trees is the most labor intensive part of making maple syrup; it usually involves trudging through several feet of snow to lay the lines, connecting the smaller lines to the main lines, then actually tapping the lines into each tree. In spring 2006, we put in a new system of lines which is higher in the trees and can stay in the sugarbush year-round. Now in early spring, we just flush the lines and tap them into the trees. (Tapping a maple tree causes no permanent damage if care is taken, and it may yield sap for over 100 years.) The lines are also on a vacuum system which pulls the sap into collection tanks near Harwood Lake.
It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
The sap is brought to the sap-house and placed into a holding tank. It is then pumped through a reverse osmosis machine which removes a large amount of water (this same water is later used for cleaning the reverse osmosis machine!). The permeate sap then goes to a tank which feeds into the evaporator, and the evaporation process begins. The temperature is closely monitored as the water is boiled out of the sap. The temperature at which sap becomes syrup varies depending on the barometric pressure, but it is basically 7° higher than the boiling point of water. When it reaches the perfect temperature, it is quickly drawn off the evaporator.
When the syrup is drawn off, it goes into a steam kettle where it is checked for density; it must read 66.5 on a Brix scale to be classified as syrup. Once it is syrup (it is usually pretty close when it comes off the evaporator), it is pumped through a diatomaceous earth filter press and into storage kegs and barrels. Some syrup is used to make products like maple cream, maple candy and maple sugar.
If you are interested in learning more about how we make our maple syrup, our Syrup Season Open-House has now become an annual tradition. Each year during syrup season, we host an open-house so you can tour our facilities, see the entire maple syrup making process, and sample some treats made from our Michigan maple syrup. We'll post the date and time on our website, so check back in February - our open-house is usually around mid-March.