Maple Syrup Evolution

When I think about maple syrup I don’t think of the store bought plastic bottled stuff many people think of, no I think of a shelf of canning jars in my parents basement. See growing up we made a lot of things ourselves, maple syrup was one of those things. My memories are of buckets on trees spread out along the road of the woods that were part of grampa’s farm. My dad & others would take a truck or tractor & gather as much sap as possible, everyone would donate some firewood & they would bring it to our house & boil it down, it was a fun family event. Years later most everyone gave up on it but not dad. I have memories of me & him carrying 5 gallon bucket after bucket of sap through knee deep snow behind his house to get it to the pavilion he boiled under. Dad did it for fun, for something to do in the winter but never in a great quantity to sell, it was just enough for us & family.

Fast forward 30 years to my home. I wanted my wife & children to experience all the fun memories I had making syrup with my parents. The buckets on the trees, smell of hot sap in the air & that sweet taste on pancakes weekend mornings was the reward. So we put up a small pavilion of our own, hung our buckets & got to it.

The first years were fun, made a gallon or so each year, it was everything I thought it would be, until one winter when it was extra cold & no one wanted to be out there. So the logical thing was to put up walls & a floor. Now we had a shack! Everyone came back, sheltered from the wind and a place to keep wood dry, it was great.

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Sugar shack

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We went on this way for several more years until my wife was getting some ideas. She would see if anyone was interested in buying some. I thought ok, didn’t sound like a bad idea to try to recoup some of the cost so I agreed. Besides, we’re in maple country, who would want to buy maple syrup in maple country, kind of like selling ice to Eskimos right? Well apparently she could. To my surprise she got orders for several gallons. Oh no, we don’t have enough buckets. So we added more but soon realized carrying that much sap wasn’t that much fun anymore. It was hard but we were able to fill the orders but barely.

So by the time the next year came around we had decided to use sap lines instead of buckets as our primary method to collect sap, this would save a lot of labor & time. Smart huh? Well not so fast, who knew there was a science to sap lines, capillary action, gravity, drop distance, etc… and of course I picked the larger diameter line thinking it would allow more volume. So as I talked about it to the guys at work, I found out a few guys there were into it too. Now it became a little bit of a competition to see who could get the most sap. Come to find out these guys were getting more sap by accident than I was with all my lines & buckets & experience. How could that be? They said it was my old nemesis, technology. Doing things the way dad & grampa did is great for nostalgia but not for business. So that winter we didn’t make much more than we had the prior year so I started researching what technology there was. There is a lot of science behind this believe it or not. We found out our large line didn’t create enough natural vacuum, it was the smaller line that gave the largest quantity. Kind of like the tortoise & the hare?

So the following year orders were piling up and the pressure was on. Armed with this new technology and the excitement of a new adventure we were off and running. I would keep getting updates from on my wife on how much more sap we were collecting, it was so cool, one barrel filled, then another, uh oh. We were quickly running out of storage & would have to start boiling before the weekend. Now things got interesting, for every problem fixed a new one seemed to pop up. Once volume was fixed the next issue was evaporating to keep up with the volume, meaning more firewood than ever before. We quickly realized we couldn’t cook enough sap to keep up with the volume coming in. Buying more storage containers wasn’t the answer, we had to figure out how to deal with this much volume, after a little more research we found more technology, reverse osmosis. Now our little shack in the woods with a lantern for light & wood stove for heat needed power, you guessed it, I ran power up there for lights, pumps & the R.O. machine. The R.O. machine mechanically separates water & sugar reducing the amount of boiling at the evaporator.

So now we’ve overcome every obstacle we had, volume, storage and cooking. Now we had lots of syrup, just filter & bottle it right? It’s never that easy, we found out the old farm milk strainer I’d used for years was not enough to filter out the niter sand that has to be removed to be compliant with rules & regulations for resale. So my wife got some sort of cone filter but we were losing more syrup than we were filtering so once again, time to do more research. We finally found we could make a vacuum system for medium production without breaking the bank.

By the end of that season we weren’t just tired but were mentally exhausted too. We went through a lot of changes that year but as they say persistence pays off. I’m sure other issues will arise like her wanting an addition to the shack but we will meet each challenge the same way we always have, together. Now I just wish I had a quiet place to get away, like a shack in the woods!?

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The shack

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