The Giving Tree
Wisconsin’s Sugaring Season
As the sap in maple trees across Wisconsin begins flowing with the early spring warmup, the woods are flooded with maple syrup producers and hobbyists carrying drills, spiles, and buckets to collect the sugary substance for boiling down into sweet, pure maple syrup. Wisconsin ranks 4th in the nation in production of maple syrup, our extreme weather patterns are what makes us so successful.
Weather plays a critical role in sap collection, a brief window of opportunity, which is why so many rush out to the woods during the spring surge. Ideal temperatures for sap to start flowing are nights below freezing and days in the mid 40s. The temperature change causes shifts in pressure that sends sap flowing throughout the tree. Sugarmakers with Schrauth Sweet Sensations are looking forward to this years production, cold winters often make for sweeter sap and due to the extended lows we endured are anticipating an extra delicious, sweet treat.
Many people wonder why pure maple syrup is more expensive than its mass-produced counterparts, but in truth counterparts isn’t even a fair comparison as these contain artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, and use corn syrup as the main sweetner. Real syrup is very labor intensive, but worth all the work to all of us sugarmakers who participate in the boil. There are many methods of collection, smaller operations collect the sap in buckets that must be carried out of the woods on a daily basis, while larger operations have gone in favor of tube and vaccum systems. It takes on average 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup from Wisconsin’s state tree, the Sugar Maple. One of the most important things to do when “sugaring” is to keep the sap cold, or boil it down soon after collection. If the sap gets above 40° it will spoil, and there’s no going back from there except to dump all that work and effort back into the ground.
Early settlers of the north-east learned about sugar maples from the Native Americans. Technology has changed dramatically the way that syrup is reduced and collected but the process hasn’t really changed much in the centuries it has been occuing; collect sap and reduce over heat. It is simply the sap of the maple tree, significantly evaporated down to the sugary confection we know and love as pure maple syrup. Syrup is a great natural food, it contains no preservatives, colorings or other additives. Once the sap is boiled down and the syrup is concentrated to the correct density, it is then filtered and “hot pack” bottled.
Over an entire season, the yield of sap can range from 5 to 20 gallons of sap per taphole. This varies significantly due to the weather conditions, the type of collection system, and most importantly the tree’s size, health, and variety. While may Wisconsinites are ready for spring to come in full fledged, those of us who enjoy the flow of sap just hope for a few more weeks of cold. The season is offically over with the continued spring warmth and the budding of the trees. When the season is over the tap, or spile, is removed and the tree wound heals over. Every year a new hole is drilled in a different spot, which can take place for generations. This is why sugarmakers consider Wisconsins Sugar Maple the tree that keeps giving.