March Madness Means Maple Around Here

During our trip to Canada a few summers ago, we went home with a great, big bottle of pure maple syrup. It tasted so delectable that we used it all up and thought we might have to make another trip to Canada to replenish our stock. As it turns out, we don’t have to venture any farther than our home state of Ohio for pure maple syrup. O Canada – we have maple, too!

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I grew up with maple trees in the yard but never realized that we live in the region that supplies maple syrup to the rest of the world. It is only around the Great Lakes and eastern Canada that maple syrup is made. Who knew?

The state of Ohio fully embraces its role in maple syrup production and hosts two Maple Sugaring weekends in northeastern Ohio each March. I was told beforehand that the ideal time to tap the trees would be on a day that reached about 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit following a freeze. This past weekend was just about perfect. Freezing nights and slightly warner temps during the day. I headed north to Geauga County for the Maple Madness Driving Tour where family-run maple producers open their maple-sugaring operations to the public.

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Some families still collect sap in pails in their sugarbush (grove of maple trees). Other harvesters are using plastic bags, or modern tubing systems that are linked together and carry the sap through the sugarbush, using gravity to spill the sap into the sugarhouse where the sap is boiled.

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Consider this: it takes about 45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup! When you look into the pool of sap, you can see why; it is as clear as water. In fact, it’s only 2% sugar and 98% water. The syrup producers use reverse osmosis and evaporation to boil it down to the sweet, sticky confection we know and love.

This is sap. It just looks like sugar water until it's boiled down to the right consistency.

This is sap. It just looks like sugar water until it’s boiled down to the right consistency.

Much easier than the way the pioneers did it, by boiling kettles full of sap for days. The county parks shared the historical processes as part of the Maple Madness Tours.

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The maple producers I visited said that the bitterly cold winter probably hurt syrup production this year, but the coming weeks will tell. Maple sugaring usually begins mid-February and ends in March, though they’ve experienced seasons that only lasted a few days and others that lasted up to nine weeks.

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After I took a tractor out to one family’s elaborately-piped sugarbush and saw their reverse osmosis machine, I went to a place called Ma & Pa’s where we were given buckets and taken out to the sugarbush on a horse-drawn carriage. I happily carried a pail of watery sap from a tree to the evaporator. It was exciting to me to see such an abundance of sap from the tree I picked, and I couldn’t resist sticking my finger in to taste it. Not surprisingly, it tasted like mildly-sweetened water. Nothing like the small cup of maple syrup we later sampled in the sugarhouse.

I’m not going to lie; it didn’t taste as potent as the maple syrup I remember from Canada. Perhaps it was the result of this winter’s frigid season, or maybe it just seems stronger when you travel farther north. Or maybe after drinking 5 sample cups of syrup, your tongue is too thick to tell the difference. Regardless, maple syrup tastes delicious. Almost as delicious as the experience of carrying the sap away from the tree myself. I’m sure it’s a chore if you do it all the time, but to me it was a treat. One more thing I can cross off my “bucket” list. (Lame pun intended.)

Does maple-sugaring appeal to you?

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34 responses to “March Madness Means Maple Around Here

  1. Haha…good for you Ohio! My dad grew up in Quebec and then moved out to B.C. I remember him getting pure maple syrup sent to him back from his hometown. Oh yum! Another sugar blast! I got to visit there once and had the syrup on a snowball. That was so good. Anyway, the maples are beautiful wherever they are. That’s great you could take part in the process personally. Love the pun! Nice article. Very entertaining.

    • The most popular way to use it is to pour it over pancakes. But you can also use it to flavor ice cream, cookies, biscotti, scones, mustard, etc., etc.

      Luckily we don’t have to eat it seasonally. It keeps for a long time and we eat it year-round.

      • We use cream in our coffee, and sometimes whipped cream on pancakes, but still usually add syrup. I’d definitely try it. Do you mean clotted cream, or whipped?? I take it this would replace the butter.

      • See, the cream in coffee thing is a little weird to me, though. I’ve tried it and I can’t quite see it as being right. All these little differences :)

        I usually use whipped cream because it’s more available, but I don’t think it makes a big difference (i.e. personal preference). Clotted cream would be more your posh cafe brunch version.

        Sometimes it replaces the butter, sometimes it’s just a crazy dairy bacon fat fest, with sugary syrup. In for a penny etc.

  2. Some years ago I took my first trip to USA ( from Ireland) . One of my greatest discoveries was Maple Syrup. I came home laden down with bottles of it in various shades of brown from as many places as I could find in Vermont, Canada . Each one as unique to its area as wine is to its vineyard.

  3. What interesting photos! As a West Coaster I knew maple syrup came from trees but that was about it…that sounds like such a fun expedition.

  4. Wonderful post Juliann! I grew up in Ohio and Maple Syrup Time was one of my favorite times of the year. Our school always sponsored a field trip to one of the farms and I was so fascinated by the entire process. Thanks for bringing back a great memory. :) ~Terri

    • That would have been fun as a child. Our locals parks do a small-scale maple-sugaring event, but there just aren’t the sugar bushes like they have in northeastern Ohio. Glad it took you back in time. :)

    • They do. I almost went there, but it was cold and freezing rain the weekend it was planned. So I traveled four hours north instead. ;) Next year, I’ll try to stop in Oxford and enjoy a pancake breakfast there.

  5. I love that you find so many fun things to do in Ohio.
    Your photos are great, and you brought back some good memories with your story.

    We met up once with a family in West Virginia who tapped trees and made syrup, so we saw the entire process when we visited with them. It’s a lot of work – but well worth it! Geauga County isn’t that far. I’ll talk hubby into going up sometime.

    • I do find a lot of fun things to do in Ohio. Sometimes, even I’m amazed. ;)
      Maple sugaring looks like a long process, but there’s something so appealing about it, too. Maybe just the idea of riches inside the trees. I had fun peeking into buckets and seeing how much sap each tree had produced. It was smart of these family businesses to let tourists lend a hand in emptying the buckets. Free labor for them and fun for us.

  6. So, now I know how much works is involved with that hare brained idea I had in south carolina when we planted 25 sugar maples around our farm! Thanks for the great post and pics! I’ll buy mine from the store if I ever get back to the states – maple syrup is delish!

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