It is the time when nature provides a beautiful gift compliments of the maple tree. Almost all maple syrup production comes from Canada and the US. The Maple Syrup Producers Association of Quebec has 8,000 enterprises producing 133 million pounds of syrup and reports a 20% increase in production and sales in 2021. The Ontario Association has 600 active members. In addition to commercial production, a drive at this time of year demonstrates the large number of residents who tap a few trees for personal use or small-scale sales. Who doesn’t love maple syrup, sugar, butter, candy, or maple drinks and preserves?
Black, red and sugar maples are best for tapping. Trees that are situated where their crowns are open to the sun and air, such as those on roadsides or in lawns, are more productive and generate a sweeter sap than trees inhabiting a forested area. The sap contains water that is boiled off yielding a syrup of 67% sugar. For example, 40 gallons of sap will produce about 1 gallon of syrup. The substantial evaporation of water is why the initial stage of syrup making is done outdoors in what is called “the sugar shack” or open kettle method.
If you are new to maple syrup making, I recommend a visit to the Penn State website for up-to-date information about tapping, collection, boiling and bottling. Here’s the link: https://extension.psu.edu/maple-syrup-production-for-the-beginner
There are some tips for keeping (preserving) maple syrup. The high sugar content of syrup provides a natural anti-microbial environment. The only risk is exposure to air where spores can cause mould. Therefore, properly bottled and sealed syrup will be shelf-stable for a least 2 years. The beige plastic containers with quaint paintings on the front are not recommended for long-term storage. If you have been the happy beneficiary of a jar of syrup from a friend, refrigerate it to prevent mould production as you would do with any open bottle of syrup.
Freezing is the preferred method of preserving the quality of maple syrup. Syrup frozen in mason jars will last indefinitely and can be repeatedly thawed and re-frozen. Make sure to leave a 1-inch headspace to allow for expansion.
If freezing is not an option, hot packing is possible. The hot syrup (85C) is decanted into hot, sterilized mason jars leaving a very small headspace. Lids and rings are tightened, and jars are inverted (upside down or on their sides) for 5 to 10 minutes so that the hot syrup coats the lids. Wear protective gloves. Once cool, jars should be labeled and stored.
Get into maple syrup! On pancakes, oatmeal, ice cream, or baked apples, in cakes, icings, vinaigrettes, comports, jams or drinks. Savour the great Canadian tradition.
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